Battle for Hodeidah a major turning point in Yemen’s war

Hodeidah is believed to be the Houthi militia’s main source of weapons smuggled from Iran.
Sunday 17/06/2018
Closing in.A column of Yemeni pro-government forces and armoured vehicles arrives in al-Durayhimi district, about 9km south of Hodeidah International Airport, on June 13. (AFP)
Closing in.A column of Yemeni pro-government forces and armoured vehicles arrives in al-Durayhimi district, about 9km south of Hodeidah International Airport, on June 13. (AFP)

LONDON - In the fourth day of the offensive aimed at liberating Yemen’s city of Hodeidah from Iran-supported Houthi rebels, Saudi-led coalition forces entered Hodeidah International Airport.

“Army forces backed by the resistance and the Arab alliance freed Hodeidah international airport from the grip of the Houthi militia,” the pro-coalition Yemeni military announced on June 16.

Engineers were said to be clearing the area around the airport from mines.

The announcement indicates a sharp blow to the Houthi militia and possibly a major turning point in the 3-year-old war in Yemen. The capture of the airport allows coalition forces to cut Houthi supply lines to Sana’a. 

Forces supporting the internationally recognised Yemeni government supported by Arab coalition troops launched Operation Golden Victory on June 13 to liberate Hodeidah, which is suspected of being the main location for smuggling weapons to Houthi rebels. A force of an estimated 9,300 ground troops took part in the operation.

“This deadlock must end,” the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash said in a statement. “Depriving the Houthis of their control of Hodeidah port, at the Yemeni government’s request, answers the call of the people of Hodeidah for freedom from the Houthi rule. It means that the Houthis will no longer be able to impose their will at the barrel of a gun.”

Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz said on Twitter ahead of  the operation: “The Houthis have launched 150 ballistic missiles against civilian areas in Saudi Arabia, latest of which was intercepted [June 14]… no nation can accept such a threat to its land and people on its borders.”

The pro-Iranian rebels have fired missiles deep into Saudi Arabia and threatened to launch similar attacks at the United Arab Emirates.

Prince Khalid said that to address humanitarian concerns “in a sustainable and effective manner” Yemen needs to be “liberated” from Houthi control. “Those militants are accused of disrupting the distribution of humanitarian supplies,” he said.

There are fears that the Hodeidah offensive could exasperate the perilous situation civilians face in Yemen.

The spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Colonel Turki al-Maliki, told Al Arabiya television that anti-Houthi forces advanced along several fronts, “cautiously” to avoid civilian casualties. He also said civilians in key areas were being prevented from leaving by the rebels.

UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem al-Hashimy said Hodeidah port would remain open and that the Saudi-led coalition was preparing a plan to deliver aid to the city and surrounding areas.

“We have ships, planes and trucks with food supplies and medicine to address the immediate needs of the people,” Hashimy said in an official statement.

“Hodeidah port remains open to shipping. Should the Houthis attempt to further damage and destroy any port or logistics infrastructure, we have also put contingency plans in place to move aid by other methods to Hodeidah and points beyond,” she said.

Hashimy said that, besides the $14 billion provided by the coalition in aid for Yemen, the coalition would work with aid agencies to ensure that, once the port is liberated, “we will quickly increase the capacity of the port and the amount of aid flowing through it.”

UN Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, who arrived in Sana’a on June 16,  was expected to propose the Houthis give control of Hodeidah to a UN-supervised committee, Agence France-Presse reported.