Fighting in Hodeidah rages on, UN postpones peace talks
ADEN, Yemen - With both sides of the conflict in Yemen ignoring calls for a ceasefire, the battle to liberate the strategic port city of Hodeidah reached a decisive stage, with military experts and witnesses confirming that forces supported by the Saudi-led coalition had reached the city.
Since the latest operation to take the city began November 2, reports indicated significant advances by coalition forces in Hodeidah, mainly around the highway linking the city to Sana’a.
“The fighting is going at a fast pace despite the new obstacles facing the anti-Houthi coalition,” Yemeni military expert Colonel Yahya Abuhatm said. He said the situation involved “urban warfare, with the coalition having to contend with land mines, snipers and human shields.”
The Houthi rebels stormed hospitals in Hodeidah and posted snipers on rooftops, Thomson Reuters reported. Amnesty International accused the Iran-allied Houthis of “deliberate militarisation of hospitals” in Hodeidah and called on warring factions to protect civilians.
Military sources told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that government forces and the Saudi-led coalition edged towards the city’s docks, through which nearly 80% of Yemen’s commercial imports and practically all UN-supervised humanitarian aid pass. The port is also one of the Houthi rebels’ main points for receiving weapons and supplies.
“Either the rebels surrender the city peacefully or we take it by force but we will take it either way,” commander Moammar al-Saidy told AFP.
Abuhatm said Hodeidah could be captured in days, adding that “the Houthi militia should not be given an opportunity to reorganise their ranks.”
Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi called for “perseverance.”
“We have a responsibility to persevere and to stand tall. An infiltration by the enemy does not mean the end of the battle. It means that taking action and fighting has become a duty,” al-Houthi said in a televised address November 7. He blamed the United States for the escalation in fighting.
“Does the enemy think that penetrating this or that area or seizing this or that area means we will be convinced that we should surrender and hand over control? This is not happening and will not happen ever,” al-Houthi said.
The Saudi-led coalition said it had “increased its capability to independently conduct in-flight refuelling” in Yemen and so asked for the United States to end in-flight refuelling support,” a statement from the Saudi press agency said.
US officials told the Associated Press that the refuelling change would not affect US military assistance and training regarding coalition air strikes.
Anti-Houthi forces tried to retake Hodeidah in June but the operation was halted after the United Nations appealed to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to allow for peace efforts. A renewed drive to recapture Hodeidah began in September after UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths was unable to get negotiators to talks in Geneva.
The latest drive to liberate the city coincided with US calls for a ceasefire.
Griffiths had hoped to have peace talks in November but, after the escalation in fighting, he is seeking to get warring factions together for talks by the end of the year. Griffiths is trying to “clear up any issues” to ensure a “successful round of talks as soon as possible,” UN spokesman Farhan Haq said.
Griffiths met with Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani November 7 in Riyadh to discuss “ways to push forward the peace process in Yemen, as well as confidence-building measures in preparation for reviving political talks,” a Yemeni government statement said.
However, Hamza al-Kamali, under-secretary of the Ministry of Youth in the Yemeni government, said the battle for Hodeidah must be completed.
“The liberation of Hodeidah is a humanitarian operation in the first place,” said Kamali, who has been part of the Yemeni peace negotiating delegation. “Restoring stability to the city will guarantee the end of the suffocating humanitarian crisis.”