Saudi-led coalition poised to take airport of Yemen's main port city

Charlene Craig
June 18, 2018

Saudi-led forces fought to retake the worldwide airport of Yemen's rebel-held port city of Hodeida, Yemeni officials and witnesses said on Saturday, as their Shiite Houthi rebel rivals denied the coalition had seized the facility that is the starving nation's main gateway for food shipments.

The U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia are part of a coalition backing Yemen's internationally recognized government in its attempt to capture the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.

The coalition of Arab states has battled with little success for three years to defeat the Houthis, who control the capital Sanaa, the main port at Hodeidah and most of Yemen's populated areas.

Fighting on the ground is focused on the area around Hodeidah's airport, to the south of the city, and the United Nations reported that aid shipments continued to flow at Hodeidah's port.

Hodeida, home to almost 600,000 people, is some 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Sanaa, Yemen's capital, which is under Houthi control.

The United States rejected a request from the UAE for intelligence, mine-sweeping and airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets for the Hodeidah operation, a UAE official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, while noting congressional opposition.

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Retaking the port "means that the Houthis will no longer be able to impose their will at the barrel of a gun", the U.A.E. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a statement.

The U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is due to arrive in Sanaa on Saturday.

Yesterday, authorities at Hodeida port said the Red Sea lifeline remained open to shipping.

Ms Nusseibeh said the offensive to oust the Houthi rebels was "a critical step toward achieving a political solution to this conflict because we know there is no military solution".

The capture of Hodeida would be the coalition's biggest victory of the war so far and on Thursday rebel leader Abdel Malek Al-Huthi called on his forces to keep up their resistance and turn the coastal region into a "swamp for the invaders".

The council is set to meet behind closed doors to discuss the assault launched on Wednesday on rebel-held Hodeida despite United Nations warnings of a looming catastrophe in Yemen, where millions are on the brink of starvation. The coalition air campaign and Houthi bombardment have left more than 10,000 people dead and 2 million displaced, and devastated the country's already fragile infrastructure including the health sector, which has helped spawn a cholera epidemic. "If we can't provide what they need, they're going to be in awful trouble", Grande said.

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With logistical support from the U.S., the Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out attacks inside Yemen since March 2015, killing at least 10,000 people, in an attempt to reinstate the internationally recognised government of President Abu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Instead, council members "reiterated their call for the ports of Hudaydah and Saleef to be kept open", said Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who holds the council presidency.

Yemeni pro-government forces led by Emirati troops advanced to within metres of Hodeidah airport on Friday, Yemeni military officials said. The UAE official said the operation was part of an effort to break the military stalemate between the coalition and the Houthis, who the USA and the coalition view as being armed and backed by Iran.

Saudi Arabia and UAE government have announced a "multi-faceted plan" to protect civilians in Hodeida, including establishing routes for food, medical supplies and oil shipments from Saudi Arabia's southern city of Jizan and the UAE's capital, Abu Dhabi.

The world body said it was still bringing aid: "We are there and delivering, we are not leaving Hodeidah", U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande said.

He said Security Council members were "united in their deep concern about the risks to the humanitarian situation".

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The Air Defense Forces of the Coalition detected the launching of a ballistic missile at 15:09 hours Thursday by Houthi militias from Saada city in Yemen towards Saudi territories.

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