Fri, Jun 15, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Coalition keeps up port assault before UN meeting

Reuters, ADEN

Arab warplanes and warships yesterday pounded Houthi positions in Yemen’s Hodeidah for a second day, as the Saudi-led alliance tried to seize the nation’s main port in the largest battle of a war that has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The coalition also struck the main road linking Hodeidah to the capital, Sana’a, to block any reinforcements of the Iran-aligned Houthis, who hold both cities, residents and Yemeni military officials said.

“People are scared. The warships are terrifying and warplanes are flying overhead all the time,” university student Amina, 22, told reporters by telephone. “People are fleeing the city to the countryside, but for those with no relatives there or money, there is no escape.”

Capturing Hodeidah, the Houthis’ only port, would give the coalition the upper hand in the three-year war, but it also would risk choking a lifeline for Yemenis, most of whom live in Houthi territory.

Despite the fighting, the UN is still supplying aid.

“We are there and delivering — we are not leaving Hodeidah,” UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande said.

The Arab states said they would try to keep the port running.

The UN Security Council was yesterday to meet behind closed doors, at the request of Britain, over the offensive.

UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths has said the world body is talking to both sides to de-escalate.

Western nations have quietly backed the Arab states diplomatically, while mostly avoiding direct public involvement in the conflict. The US, Britain and France all sell billions of US dollars of weapons a year to the Arab countries.

Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi has blamed the West for the assault.

“The British told us a week ago that the Emiratis and the Saudis had told them they would not enter the battle of Hodeidah without their agreement and assistance,” he said.

British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson on Wednesday said the UK government was in contact with the alliance about ensuring its operations comply with international law on protecting civilians.

Coalition spokesman Turki al-Malki has said operation “Golden Victory” aimed to wrest control of the port and airport, but that they would avoid entering the city, where the Houthis have deployed military vehicles and troops.

A military official said the 21,000-strong coalition ground force — which includes Emiratis, Sudanese and Yemenis drawn from different factions — was de-mining the coastal strip south of Hodeidah and combing the rural area for Houthis fighters.

The coalition said it would facilitate the flow of goods into Yemen once it seized the port by easing some of its import restrictions, but added that the Houthis have planted mines, which could affect those efforts.

The coalition announced a five-point aid plan for the Hodeidah port and surrounding areas, including the establishment of a shipping lane to Hodeidah from Abu Dhabi and Jizan, a city in southern Saudi Arabia.

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