AL JAH: Yemeni forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition launched a major offensive on Wednesday to retake the rebel-held port city of Hodeida, despite UN warnings of a “catastrophic humanitarian impact”, reports AFP.
Field commanders told AFP that troops pushed towards Hodeida airport after Yemeni pro-government forces received a “green light” from the coalition.The offensive is controversial because the port serves as the entry point for 70 percent of Yemen’s imports as the country teeters on the brink of famine.
The coalition accuses the Huthi rebels of using the port to secure Iranian arms, notably the ballistic missiles the militants have increasingly fired into Saudi territory.
Coalition sources said the alliance carried out 18 air strikes on Huthi positions on the outskirts of Hodeida on Wednesday. According to medical sources in the province, 22 Huthi fighters were killed by coalition raids, while three pro-government fighters were killed in a rebel ambush south of Hodeida.
The port city, home to 600,000 people, was captured by the Iran-backed insurgents in 2014 along with the capital Sanaa.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and a bloc of other countries intervened in Yemen the following year with the goal of restoring the government to power.
Yemen’s government said on Tuesday that negotiations had failed to force the rebels from Hodeida, and that a grace period for UN-led peace efforts was over.“All peaceful and political means of removing the Huthi militia from Hodeida port have been exhausted,” the government said in a statement carried by Yemen’s state news agency Saba.
The United Nations on Monday withdrew its international staff from Hodeida, saying an attack would “impact hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.”
The UN has warned that the likely “catastrophic humanitarian impact” would be worsened due to Hodeida’s key role as an entry point for aid and commercial goods.
Meanwhile, the UN envoy for Yemen said Wednesday he is continuing to hold negotiations on keeping a key port in Yemen open to aid deliveries after government forces launched an offensive on Hodeida.
“We are in constant contact with all the parties involved to negotiate arrangements for Hodeida that would address political, humanitarian, security concerns of all concerned parties,” said Martin Griffiths in a statement.