SMA News – Agencies A Saudi-led alliance of Arab states launched an attack on Yemen’s main port city on Wednesday in the largest battle of the Yemen war, aiming to bring 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 Hodeidah in operation “Golden Victory”. Fighting raged near Hodeidah airport and al-Durayhmi, a rural area 10 km (6 miles) south of the city, media controlled by the Arab states and their Yemeni allies reported.
The United Arab Emirates’ state news agency reported that UAE forces and local allies had penetrated the Houthis’ front line on the airport perimeter. It also reported that four Emirati soldiers had died in Yemen, without specifying whether the deaths were tied to the Hodeidah operation.
So far, the Arab states have not tried to capture such a heavily defended major city since joining the war three years ago against the Iran-aligned Houthis, who control the capital, Sanaa, and most of the populated areas. The Sunni Muslim Arab states see the Houthi rise as expansionism by their Shi’ite foe Iran. The Houthis, from a Shi’ite minority, say they took power through a popular revolt and are defending Yemen from invasion. The Saudi-led coalition’s plan is to take control only of the airport and seaport, plus the route leading to Sanaa, spokesman Turki al-Malki said. “We will not fight a street war with the Houthis in Hodeidah city, for the safety of civilians,” he told al-Hadath TV.
The Houthis said they had a repelled a sea landing near the port by forces from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “The Saudi coalition has not advanced at all in Hodeidah,” Dayfallah al-Shami, a member of the movement’s political bureau, told the Lebanese TV channel al-Mayadeen. Yemen is experiencing a humanitarian crisis that eclipses even Syria’s. The United Nations says 22 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian aid, with 8.4 million on the verge of famine – a figure that could rise to 10 million by the end of this year, For most, the port is the only route for food supplies.
Despite the fighting, the United Nations kept up its aid supplies. “We are there and delivering, we are not leaving Hodeidah,” said Lise Grande, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen. “We have a ship offloading food even as shelling and bombing is happening. Humanitarians will not walk away,” she told Reuters by telephone from Sanaa. The U.N. Security Council is due to meet behind closed doors on Thursday – at the request of Britain – over the attack, diplomats said. The Houthis deployed military vehicles and troops in the city center and near the port, as warplanes struck the coast to the south, said a resident speaking on condition of anonymity. People fled by routes to the north and west. CARE International, one of the few aid agencies still there, said 30 air strikes hit the city within half an hour. “Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes. We thought it could not get any worse, but unfortunately we were wrong,” said CARE’s acting country director, Jolien Veldwijk.
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