Published: Thu, June 14, 2018
Global | By Shelia Dennis

Saudis Announce Start of Attack on Key Yemen Aid Port

Saudis Announce Start of Attack on Key Yemen Aid Port

Troops backed by a Saudi-led coalition on Wednesday launched an assault on Yemen's main port city of Hodeidah, in the biggest battle of a three-year war between an alliance of Arab states and the Houthis.

The incident occurred as Saudi-led coalition forces were making an amphibious assault near the city, part of an ongoing blitz to clear Houthi rebels from the area that has included past amphibious landings.

The United Arab Emirates, a member of the Western-backed alliance, set yesterday as a deadline for the Houthis to withdraw from the port, which is the main entry point for humanitarian aid into Yemen.

The United Nations had been engaged in negotiations with stakeholders in the conflict in an effort to avoid a large-scale confrontation, and following a U.K. request, the U.N. Security Council is expected to meet to discuss the situation on Thursday.

Yemen's exiled government said in a statement that it "has exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the Houthi militia from the port of Hodeida", according to The Associated Press.

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The UK is working with the UN, NGOs and the Coalition to respond to the humanitarian situation.

Other aid officials warn an attack on the port would set back chances of a political settlement and make it hard for the flow of aid to continue.

The UAE is a key partner with Saudi Arabia, which is backed by the United States. The United Nations in January shipped in mobile cranes to help unload ships there.

"Under global 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", Lise Grande, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, told Reuters by email.

The embattled Yemeni president had visited the UAE in a rare move on Tuesday. Hadi had previously condemned the UAE for pursuing its own interests in Yemen, backing southern separatists and seeking to secure for itself Yemeni ports and islands in order to control the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait linking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, through which most of the maritime trade between Europe and Asia passes.

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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".

The US marginally backs the Saudi-led coalition, announcing yesterday that it's helping show the coalition which targets not to hit in order to limit civilian casualties. Both the Saudi and Emirati rulers and Washington have claimed that the port of Hodeidah has been used by the Houthis to import arms from Iran, but no evidence has been presented to support this allegation.

The two countries also vowed to distribute urgently-needed food supplies and to supply hospitals in Hodeida with medical equipment and staff. Officials from Saudi Arabia and the UAE also said the countries would work to ensure electricity continues to flow to Yemeni homes, hospitals and the port in Hodeida.

Jolien Veldwijk, the acting country director for CARE International, called the attack "catastrophic, hopeless and devastating".

He said Saudi Arabia received 561,911 Yemeni refugees and in response to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, provided $66.7 million to combat cholera in Yemen. Civil war and a Saudi blockade of the port have driven parts of Yemen close to starvation.

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Local sources in Hodeidah said the Houthis booby-trapped the Hodeidah Port and its facilities to blow it up if legitimate and coalition forces advance to expel them from the area. UNICEF said an attack would put approximately 300,000 children in the city at risk.

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