Pro-government Yemeni forces plan siege of rebel-held port

MOKHA: Pro-government forces in Yemen are preparing to surround a key Red Sea port in a bid to force rebels to surrender it without a fight, military sources said on Wednesday.
At least 60 fighters were killed in the latest clashes and air strikes, according to medical sources.
Loyalist fighters backed by Gulf Arab coalition forces are sending reinforcements ahead of a “new operation” to enter Hodeida city and seize its port, a commander from one of the forces said.
Hodeida port is the main conduit for humanitarian aid into Yemen, where years of war have left some 22 million people in need of food aid.
Colonel Sadiq Duwaid, spokesman for the “National Resistance”, one of three main forces taking part in the operation, said it was “being bolstered by new forces… that will take part in retaking Hodeida”.
“First, we will cut off supply lines, especially between (rebel-held capital) Sanaa and Hodeida, then we will place the rebels under siege and bring them down, perhaps without a fight,” he said.
Clashes broke out east of the port city on Wednesday while the coalition carried out numerous air strikes on rebel positions, Yemeni military sources said.
Seven pro-government fighters were killed and 14 wounded, according to medical sources in Hodeida province, while at least 53 rebels also died.
The deadly clashes come a day after an AFP reporter saw a large military convoy heading towards Hodeida from Mokha, 180 kilometres to the south. Hodeida lies 230 kilometres from Sanaa, which the rebels seized in 2014. The coalition accuses the rebels of using Hodeida as a launchpad for attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and for smuggling in rockets.
The insurgents have in recent months ramped up missile attacks against neighbours.
Nearly 10,000 people have been killed since the fighting began in March 2015.
More than 2,200 others have died from cholera and millions are on the verge of famine in what the United Nations says is the world’s gravest humanitarian crisis.
The UN warned on Tuesday that any operation aimed at seizing Hodeida would disrupt the entry of aid shipments to Yemen, 70 per cent of which flow through the rebel-held port.
“We are extremely concerned about the situation around Hodeida,” said spokesman Stephane Dujarric, adding that the UN had taken precautions in case of “further escalation”.
The fighting in western Yemen has been fierce, slowed by landmines that Yemeni military sources say have been laid by the insurgents.
The insurgents have said they are ready to thwart any coalition operation and have urged Hodeida residents to join their ranks to prevent the city’s capture.
Rebel-run media outlets on Wednesday claimed a drone attack on “the enemy’s air defences on the west coast” and said an overland counter-attack south of Hodeida had “inflicted heavy losses on the enemy”.
But in a phone call to Hodeida’s governor, Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher called on the city’s residents to “close ranks… against the insurgent militia which is losing strength every day”. — AFP