Houthis lobby UN to stay in Hodeidah amid fears of looming assault

Hodeidah is believed to be the Houthi militia’s main source of weapons smuggled from Iran.
Sunday 10/06/2018
An armoured vehicle of the Yemeni pro-government forces patrols on the main road to Hodeidah. (AFP)
Strategic city. An armoured vehicle of the Yemeni pro-government forces patrols on the main road to Hodeidah. (AFP)

LONDON - Yemeni sources in the port city of Hodeidah say military force is the only option to liberate the city from the Iran-allied Houthi militia. This assessment came as forces supporting the internationally recognised government were reportedly within 10km of the strategic port.

The Saudi-led coalition was moving slowly in its assault on Hodeidah to limit the danger to the civilian population but securing the city was deemed important to stem suspected weapons smuggling to the rebels.

The sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said any other option would give the Houthis and their supporters a chance to use the Hodeidah port to receive arms and supplies.

A Yemeni military official in the battle said the Hodeidah airport, as well as the Red Sea port, was considered a weapons drop-off point for the Houthi militia.

The military official said evidence of the Houthi militia’s reversal was its interest in seeking a UN compromise to stay in Hodeidah.

UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths met with Houthi representatives in Sana’a on June 4. Afterward, Griffiths expressed reservations concerning the pending battle.

“Apart from the avoidable humanitarian consequences of such a battle, I am also very concerned about the impact (on) chances of a political settlement of this conflict,” Griffiths was quoted in an Associated Press report.

Griffiths is trying to broker a peace deal that stipulates the militia give up its ballistic missiles in return for the coalition ending its aerial bombing campaign and the setting up of a transitional government, Thomson Reuters reported.

The draft document, which is yet to be made public but has been seen by Reuters, says that “heavy and medium weapons, including ballistic missiles, shall be handed over by non-state military actors in an orderly and planned fashion.”

“No armed groups shall be exempt from disarmament,” it says.

“The intention is to link security and political aspects starting with a cessation of fighting… then to move towards a withdrawal of forces and the formation of a national unity government. This last objective could possibly be the hardest,” a source familiar with the proposal told Thomson Reuters.

The Saudi-led coalition dropped leaflets over Hodeidah on June 5, calling on residents to “rise up” against the Houthi rebels, the southern separatist friendly Aden al-Ghad news website reported.

“Our dear brothers: The coalition and Yemeni legitimacy [pro-government] forces call on you to rise up in the face of the armed, criminal Houthi militias as the legitimacy forces enter,” one of the leaflets read.

“You must stand by and support the legitimacy forces by staying away from positions and gatherings of armed Houthi militias,” another leaflet said.

Hodeidah is believed to be the Houthi militia’s main source of weapons smuggled from Iran and has been instrumental in their upgraded military capabilities, evident by missile attacks on Saudi Arabia.

An editorial in the Dubai-based Gulf News, stressing the strategic importance of the city, said capturing Hodeidah “effectively means that [the Houthis] would lose the ability to receive Iranian weapons and thus the beginning of the end of their grip on the country.”

The Hodeidah offensive had been delayed over humanitarian concerns. The Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition have called for the port to be put under international monitors’ control.