Saudi Arabia And Its Allies Strike Yemen's Main Port City

Frederick Owens
June 14, 2018

The Red Sea port, controlled by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who hail from northern Yemen, serves as the entry point for 70% of the impoverished country's imports as it teeters on the brink of starvation.

The Saudi-led coalition launched a major assault on Yemen's port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday, killing 250 Iranian-backed Houthi fighters, according to UPI.

Lise Grande, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, speaking by telephone from the capital Sanaa, said that her office was drawing up options to ensure aid delivery to millions of Yemenis "in case of a possible siege of Hodeidah", including a humanitarian airlift.

The conflict has left almost 10,000 people dead in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country. They have always been restricting imports into Hodeidah to prevent what they say is Iranian traffic in missiles to the Houthis, and say they can swiftly improve food supplies once they control the port.

The battle for Hudaida, if the Houthis don't withdraw, also may mark the first major street-to-street urban fighting for the Saudi-led coalition, which can be deadly for both combatants and civilians alike. This has made it by far the most important port for humanitarian aid, with estimates that as much as 70% of aid comes through the port.

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

Two Saudi and UAE aid ships were in the waters off Hodeidah, coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki told Saudi 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 Hudaida.

The initial battle plan appeared to involve a pincer movement. It includes Emirati and Sudanese troops as well as Yemenis, drawn from southern separatists, local Red Sea coast fighters and a battalion led by a nephew of late ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

"The liberation of the province of Hodeidah from the grip of the. militias, will be the beginning of the complete victory for the liberation of all the Yemeni lands", Yemen's government in exile said in a statement. "Liberation of the port of Hudaida is a milestone in our struggle to regain Yemen from the militias".

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"Our destiny and that of Yemen will continue to be one, and our shared pain and bloodshed will draw us closer", the UAE strongman told Hadi, Yemen's state news agency Saba reported.

In a statement responding to the potentially catastrophic attack on Hodeidah, Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, took aim at both the USA and the United Kingdom for providing crucial political and military support for the Saudi-led assault, arguing that such complicity reveals "the true face of their foreign policy". The port is some 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Sanaa, Yemen's capital held by the Houthis since they swept into the city in September 2014.

Responding to the early stages of the attack-which began with an estimated 30 Saudi airstrikes within half an hour, guided by USA military intelligence-Win Without War wrote on Twitter that the attack is "a dark moment of shame for the United States".

The United Nations and other aid groups already had pulled their global staff from Hodeida ahead of the rumored assault.

Having failed to stop the UAE from acting, the US military has helped Gulf allies develop a list of targets that should be off-limits, according to several reports citing unnamed USA officials.

The International Crisis Group warned that a battle in Hodeida would "leave millions of Yemenis without food, fuel and other vital supplies".

Over 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's civil war, which has displaced 2 million more and helped spawn a cholera epidemic.

They are backed on the ground by the UAE, while Saudi Arabia has been leading a campaign of air strikes. The port is the lifeline to much-needed supplies of food and other life-saving resources and any attack would jeopardize the ability of this country to feed itself.

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