Home / International/ Arab states launch biggest assault of Yemen war with attack on main port

Arab states launch biggest assault of Yemen war with attack on main port


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 14 June 2018 00:00


 

ADEN (Reuters): A Saudi-led alliance of Arab states launched the largest assault of Yemen’s war yesterday with an attack on the main port city, aiming to drive the ruling Houthi movement to its knees at the risk of worsening the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.

Arab warplanes and warships pounded Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by foreign and Yemeni troops massed south of the port of Hodeida in operation “Golden Victory”.

The assault marks the first time the Arab states have tried to capture such a heavily-defended major city since they joined the war three years ago against the Iran-aligned Houthis, who control the Capital, Sana’a, and most of the populated areas.

The Houthis had deployed military vehicles and troops in the city centre and near the port as coalition warplanes flew overhead, striking a coastal strip to the south, one resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. People were fleeing by routes out to the North and West.

CARE International, one of the few aid organisations still operating in Hodeida, said 30 air strikes had hit the city within half an hour last morning.

“Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes. We thought it could not get any worse, but unfortunately we were wrong,” said CARE Acting Country Director Jolien Veldwijk.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV quoted witnesses describing “concentrated and intense” bombing near the port itself.

The United Nations fears the assault could drastically worsen already desperate conditions in the region’s poorest country. The city and surrounding area are home to 600,000 people, and the port is the main route for food and aid to reach most Yemenis, 8.4 million of whom are on the verge of famine.

“Under international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict have to do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they need to survive. Right now, nothing is more important,” said UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande, who is in Sana’a.

UN Refugee Chief Filippo Grandi said there was a danger of a more immediate crisis if Yemenis began to abandon their homes in large numbers.

Port workers told Reuters five ships were docked at Hodeida port, unloading goods but no new entry permits were issued yesterday due to the fighting. The Arab states say they will try to keep the port running and can ease the crisis once they seize it by lifting the import restrictions they have imposed.

Western countries, particularly the United States and Britain, have quietly backed the Arab states diplomatically, and sell them billions of dollars worth of arms per year, but have mostly avoided direct public involvement so far in the Yemen conflict. A major battle could test that support, especially if many civilians are killed or supplies disrupted.

The operation began after the passing of a three-day deadline set by the United Arab Emirates, one of the coalition’s leaders, for the Houthis to quit the port.

“The liberation of the port is the start of the fall of the Houthi militia and will secure marine shipping in the Bab al-Mandab strait and cut off the hands of Iran, which has long drowned Yemen in weapons that shed precious Yemeni blood,” the Arab-backed Government-in-exile said in a statement.

Houthi Leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, who has threatened attacks on oil tankers, warned the alliance not to attack the port and said on Twitter that his forces had struck a coalition barge. There was no immediate confirmation from the coalition.

The Arab states’ aim is to box-in the Houthis in Sana’a, cut their supply lines and force them to the negotiating table.

 


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