Saudia Arabia attack on Yemen: Hodeidah assaulted by warships and warplanes

Howard TerryJun 14, 2018

The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government began an assault Wednesday, June 13, 2018 on the port city of Hodeida, the main entry point for food in a country already teetering on the brink of starvation.

Wednesday's military operations mark the first time the Arab states have launched such a wide scale attack since joining the war three years ago against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control the capital Sanaa and most of the populated areas of northern Yemen. Locals reported convoys of vehicles speeding toward the city, and heavy gunfire was reported around the outskirts of the city.

The offensive is controversial because the port serves as the entry point for 70 percent of Yemen's imports as the country teeters on the brink of starvation.

The port city of Hudaida is crucial for incoming aid, food and medicine for a nation driven to the brink of starvation by the conflict and a Saudi-led blockade.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and some of its Arab allies have been carrying out airstrikes against the Houthi Ansarullah movement in Yemen in an attempt to restore power to fugitive former president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh.

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

Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S., said addressing the humanitarian situation effectively "requires liberating Yemen from the control of Houthi militias" which he said disrupt the flow and distribution of humanitarian supplies.

The Red Sea port is the only port under Houthi control, situated about 150km southwest of the capital, Sanaa.

The US also helps the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen with "limited intelligence sharing", aerial refueling for coalition jets, and training to make coalition airstrikes more precise, Major Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesperson, previously told Business Insider.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told the Houthis on Tuesday that the "final hour" is approaching in Hodeidah.

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

The Security Council has strongly supported efforts by new United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths to resume political negotiations and avoid a military escalation of the three-year-long conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million, and created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

A draft for a United Nations peace plan for Yemen exclusively seen by Reuters calls on the Houthi movement to give up its ballistic missiles in return for an end to a bombing campaign from a Saudi-led coalition.

Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities - accusations denied by the group and Iran.

The UN says some 600,000 people live in and around Hudaida, and "as many as 250,000 people may lose everything - even their lives" in the assault.

The UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said the world body was talking to both sides to try to avert a battle. However, Griffiths' recent appointment as envoy and his push for new negotiations may have encouraged the Saudi-led coalition to strengthen its hand ahead of any peace talks with the Houthis.

The attack comes as Washington has been focused on President Donald Trump's summit this week with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"I think the Emiratis have done a good job in presenting compelling arguments about why an operation (on Hodeidah) could in the end tip the balance and apply enough pressure to bring the Houthis to the table", a Western diplomat said on Monday. Already, Yemeni security officials said some were fleeing the fighting.

The Houthis, drawn from a Shi'ite minority that ruled a thousand-year kingdom in Yemen until 1962, deny they are Iranian pawns.

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