Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

Thursday, June 14, 2018 1:00 am

Port city in rebel-held Yemen hit

JON GAMBRELL | Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government launched a fierce assault Wednesday on the port city of Hodeida, the biggest offensive of the years-long war in the Arab world's poorest nation. The port is the main entry point for food in a country already teetering on the brink of famine.

The attack on the Red Sea port aimed to drive out Iranian-aligned Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who have held Hodeida since 2015, and break the civil war's long stalemate. But it could set off a prolonged street-by-street battle.

The fear is that a protracted fight could force a shutdown of Hodeida's port at a time when a halt in aid risks tipping millions into starvation. Some 70 percent of Yemen's food enters via the port, as well as the bulk of humanitarian aid and fuel supplies. Around two-thirds of the country's population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.

Before dawn Wednesday, convoys of vehicles appeared to be heading toward the rebel-held city as heavy gunfire rang out. The assault, part of an operation dubbed “Golden Victory,” began with coalition airstrikes and shelling by naval ships, according to Saudi-owned satellite news channels and state media.

“Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes,” said Jolien Veldwijk, the acting country director of the aid group CARE International, which works in Hodeida. “We thought it could not get any worse, but unfortunately we were wrong.”

Yemen's exiled government “has exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the Houthi militia from the port of Hodeida,” it said in a statement. “Liberation of the port of Hodeida is a milestone in our struggle to regain Yemen from the militias.”

Four Emirati soldiers were killed in Wednesday's assault, the United Arab Emirates' state-run news agency said, but gave no details of how they died.

Forces loyal to Yemen's exiled government and fighters led by Emirati troops had neared Hodeida in recent days. The port is some 90 miles southwest of Sanaa, Yemen's capital, which has been in Houthi hands since September 2014. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's civil war, which has displaced 2 million others and helped spawn a cholera epidemic. Saudi-led airstrikes have killed large numbers of civilians and damaged vital infrastructure.

The U.N. and Western nations say Iran has supplied the Houthis with weapons, from assault rifles to the ballistic missiles they have fired deep into Saudi Arabia, including at the capital, Riyadh.