After securing Hodeidah airport, anti-Houthi coalition sets sights on port
SANA'A - After ejecting the Iran-allied Houthi militia from Hodeidah airport, Yemeni troops loyal to the internationally recognised government and the Saudi-led coalition prepared to liberate the city’s port still under rebel control.
The pan-Arab news channel Al Arabiya reported that a considerable number of reinforcements were being sent to Hodeidah ahead of the battle for the port.
“Our preparations are in their final stages for the advance on the port,” a military source told Agence France-Presse on the condition of anonymity.
On June 13, Yemeni pro-government and coalition forces began Operation Golden Victory to capture the port of Hodeidah, which is believed to be the Houthi militia’s main source of weapons smuggled from Iran.
Within three days, Hodeidah airport had been taken amid heavy fighting and government troops and coalition forces wrestled control from the rebels of a key supply line on the main highway between Hodeidah and Sana’a, pro-government media reported.
As the militia’s losses mount, sources said the group was indicating a willingness to hand over Hodeidah port to the United Nations, a move proposed by the Saudi-led coalition numerous times since fighting began three years ago.
“The Saudis have given some positive signals on this as well to the UN envoy over the last 24 hours. The Emiratis also gave positive murmurs but the deal still has a little way to go,” an unidentified Western diplomat told Thomson Reuters.
UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths was in Sana’a for talks to resolve the crisis. He said he was encouraged by the “constructive engagement” of the Houthis’ leadership.
“I am confident that we can reach an agreement to avert any escalation of violence,” Griffiths said in a statement.
It is unclear whether the Houthis are serious about handing over control of the port. There are major differences in the Houthi camp regarding how to move forward, sources said.
The divide, the sources said, sees the Houthis’ hard-core military wing refusing to agree on understandings reached by Griffiths with officials of the Houthis’ political wing.
Senior members of the militia accused Griffiths of pursuing the agenda of the Saudi-led coalition, adding more doubt to the seriousness of the talks.
In an interview with the pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper, Yemeni Foreign Minister Khalid al-Yamani said that the goal of the Hodeidah offensive was to get the Houthis back to the negotiation table.
“The aim of the Hodeidah military operations is primarily political,” Yamani said. He said the government was working within the framework of the UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls for the Houthis’ withdrawal from all areas they have occupied and the handover of all arms.
The Houthis have “no other choice but to accept the Hodeidah initiative, a full withdrawal with all militias leaving the city, its port and airport,” he added.
Securing the port means cutting off Iranian support, of which the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had acquired further evidence, the UAE’s Al-Bayan news website reported.
The report said the evidence included “a wide range of military weapons” captured by the Arab coalition. Al-Bayan reported that “the captured weapons, each of which bore distinctive links to Iran,” provided physical evidence of Iranian support for the Houthi militias.”
The ministry noted that the Saudi-led coalition had dismantled more than 30,000 landmines since the beginning of operations in 2015.