Clashes flare as UN seeks solution in Yemen’s Hodeida

Al Duraihmi, Yemen: Yemeni pro-government forces, battled Ansar Allah around the key port city of Hodeida on Sunday, as a top UN envoy held crisis talks with the insurgents in the capital. Saudi Arabia and its allies in a regional military coalition on Wednesday launched an offensive aimed at retaking the Red Sea city of Hodeida, home to the country’s most valuable port which is controlled by Ansar Allah.
The United Nations has warned the offensive could spark a fresh humanitarian crisis in a country already hit by war and impending famine, sending its top envoy for Yemen to the capital Sanaa in a bid to come to a solution with the rebels.
More than 70 per cent of imports to all of Yemen pass through the docks of the rebel-held Hodeida port.
Yemen’s military forces have closed in on areas south and west of the port, pushing closer to an airport just south of the docks, sources in the army said.
The army on Saturday claimed it had seized the defunct Hodeida airport, which has been in Ansar Allah hands since 2014. The rebels, however, denied the claim news in a statement on their Saba news agency on Sunday.
They have also reported Saudi air strikes on Houthi outposts across Hodeida.
The highway between Hodeida and the government-held port of Mokha was cut off Friday in battles between the two warring sides, disrupting precious supply lines to the military.
The United Nations and relief organisations have warned that an all-out assault on Hodeida by the coalition, which commands a massive joint air force, would put hundreds of thousands of people at risk.
The fighting is already nearing densely populated residential areas, rights groups have warned, and aid distributions have been suspended in the west of the city.
At least 139 combatants have been killed since the launch of the operation on Wednesday, according to medical and military sources, most of them rebels.
The Ansar Allah rebels drove Yemen’s government out of Sanaa in 2014, pushing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi into exile and sparking an intervention by Saudi Arabia and its allies the following year.
The coalition earlier this year imposed a near-total blockade on Hodeida port on allegations it served as a major conduit for arms smuggling to the rebels by Riyadh.
The potential capture of Hodeida would be the coalition’s biggest victory of the war so far.
Rebel leader Abdul Malik has urged his forces to put up fierce resistance and turn the region into a “quagmire” for the coalition troops. — AFP