Clashes reach residential streets in Hodeidah

HODEIDAH, Yemen: Fighting for control of Yemen’s Ansar Allah-held city of Hodeidah reached residential streets on Sunday, as the Ansar Allah fighters mounted fierce resistance to government forces backed by Saudi Arabia, military sources said.
Fears for civilian safety have been rising since November 1, when the loyalist forces renewed an operation to take Hodeidah. The Red Sea port city has been in the grip of Yemen’s Ansar Allah fighters since 2014.
Troops entered residential streets in eastern Hodeidah on Sunday with the aim of “purging them of insurgents”, according to a military official.
Ansar Allah fighters entrenched in the streets and positioned on rooftops battled to keep loyalist fighters out of a neighbourhood located between two major landmarks in Hodeidah, the city’s main hospital and vegetable
market, both essential to the daily lives of civilians.
Yemenis across the city have reported seeing snipers stationed on rooftops and rebel-run tanks firing artillery in Hodeidah, home to the country’s most important port. Residents south of the site of Sunday’s clashes said they could hear gunfire and shelling throughout the night.
“We had three people from our neighbourhood hospitalised over the weekend for shrapnel wounds,” said Marwa, who asked that her name be changed.
“We’re really tired. It’s not safe. We have no money. This time no one is leaving. We can’t afford it, and it’s too dangerous.”
Saudi Arabia and its allies first launched an offensive to take Hodeidah in June, sparking an exodus from the densely populated city. The operation was temporarily suspended amid UN efforts to hold peace talks, which failed to materialise.
The United Nations is now pushing for talks by the end of the year.
Pro-government fighters moved into the neighbourhood between the May 22 hospital — the largest in Hodeidah — and Sanaa Road, which links the port city to inland Yemen.
Fighters clashed around the Al Waha (Oasis) Resort hotel complex, closing in on a civilian district located south of the hospital and north of Sanaa Road.
Hodeidah’s docks, while under blockade, were not yet impacted by the fighting, according to a local official.
“We cannot predict what will happen in the future, but at the moment there are no problems,” Yahya Sharafeddine, deputy director of Hodeidah port, said.
Hodeidah is a vital lifeline for Yemenis across the war-torn country, as the majority of imports and humanitarian aid enter through its port. Around 14 million Yemenis are at risk of famine and many more are dependent on international aid, according to the UN.
Hodeidah port has been blockaded by the alliance since November 2017 over what the coalition says is arms smuggling for Ansar Allah.
Sanaa international airport, held by the Ansar Allah, is also under blockade by Saudi Arabia and its allies who control Yemen’s airspace and maritime borders.
The first rebel defection from Sanaa, where the Ansar Allah runs a parallel government, was announced last Friday with Ansar Allah minister Abdul Salam Ali Jaber fleeing to Saudi Arabia.
More than 400 combatants have been killed in 10 days of clashes in Hodeidah.
Only one civilian death has been reported. Aid group Save the Children last week confirmed the death of a 15-year-old boy critically wounded by shrapnel. — AFP