Monday, June 17

Yemen forces launch assault on rebel-held port city


Yemeni pro-government forces arrive in al-Durayhimi district, about nine kilometres south of Hodeidah international airport. — AFP photo

AL JAH, Yemen: Yemeni forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition launched an offensive to retake the rebel-held port city of Hodeida, a key aid hub, sparking calls from the international community for restraint.

Pro-government troops began the assault Wednesday despite mounting international fears about the humanitarian fallout, pressing toward Hodeida airport south of the city after receiving a “green light” from the coalition.

The UN Security Council will meet yesterday for urgent talks on the offensive, diplomats said, after a request from Britain. The closed-door meeting will be the second this week on the Yemen crisis.

By Wednesday night, the offensive remained on the outskirts of the rebel-held airport.

The Red Sea port, controlled by the Iran-backed Huthi rebels who hail from northern Yemen, serves as the entry point for 70 per cent of the impoverished country’s imports as it teeters on the brink of famine.

The official United Arab Emirates news agency WAM confirmed that the operation was ongoing “with the participation and the support, through land and sea and air, of the Emirati armed forces”.

It added that the attacking forces managed to “liberate areas… in the surroundings of the airport” and captured and killed “dozens of Huthi” rebels.

The request for the Security Council meeting came after the UN envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said he was still holding negotiations on keeping the key port open to aid deliveries.

“We are in constant contact with all the parties involved to negotiate arrangements for Hodeida that would address political, humanitarian, security concerns of all concerned parties,” he said.

US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis has said he “strongly supports” Griffiths’ efforts “to bring all sides of the conflict to the negotiating table”.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief warned of the “devastating” impact the assault would have.

“The latest developments will only lead to further escalation and instability in Yemen,” Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

The coalition insisted its humanitarian aid response would go in parallel with military operations. — AFP