Battle for Yemen's biggest port under way

Blanche Robertson
June 13, 2018

Troops backed by a Saudi-led coalition started an assault on Wednesday on Yemen's main port city of Hodeidah, which is held by Iranian-backed Houthis, according to Al-Arabiya television.

In Geneva, ICRC spokeswoman Marie-Claire Feghali said that the assault was "likely to exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen", where water and electricity networks are vital to the civilian population's survival.

"The liberation of Al Hodeidah port is a turning point in our struggle to recapture Yemen from the militias that hijacked it to serve foreign agendas".

Saudi Arabia and its allies seek to attack the Yemeni city of Hudaydah.

Houthi-run Al Masirah TV said two missiles struck the barge, but there was no immediate confirmation from the coalition.

Hadi's government said in a statement reported by Saudi media on Wednesday that all political and peaceful approaches to drive the Houthis out of Hodeidah had been exhausted.

The port city of Hudaida is crucial for incoming aid, food and medicine for a nation driven to the brink of starvation by the conflict and a Saudi-led blockade.

The projectile was sacked from Yemen's Saada province towards the Saudi city of Jizan "intentionally targeting" residential areas, said coalition spokesman Turki Al Malki in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

The assault marks the first time the Arab states have tried to capture such a heavily-defended major city since they joined the war three years ago against the Iran-aligned Houthis, who control the capital Sanaa and most of the populated areas.

Forces loyal to Yemen's exiled government and irregular fighters led by Emirati troops had neared Hodeida in recent days.

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More than 10,000 people have been killed since Saudi Arabia led a bombing campaign against the Houthis. The Saudi-led coalition has been criticized for its airstrikes killing civilians.

It estimates 600,000 people live in the area, and in a worst-case scenario a battle could cost up to 250,000 lives, as well as cutting off millions from aid and supplies.

The attack also comes as Washington has been focused on President Donald Trump's recent summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday acknowledged the US continues to provide support to the Saudi-led coalition.

It wasn't immediately clear what specific American support the coalition was receiving Wednesday.

Arab warplanes and warships pounded Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by foreign and Yemeni troops massed south of the port of Hodeidah in operation "Golden Victory".

The Houthis deny they are Iranian pawns and say their revolt aims to target corruption and defend Yemen from invaders.

The coalition says one of the main justifications for its intervention is to protect Red Sea shipping, which brings Middle East oil and Asian goods to Europe through the Suez Canal. The United Arab Emirates has warned the Ansarullah movement to withdraw from the port city.

He said the coalition wanted the United Nations to take control of the port but it was prepared to take military action if the Houthis refused to withdraw. The accusations are denied by the group and Iran.

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