Aid Group: Yemenis Who Left Hodeida Might Not Return

A tribesman loyal to the Houthi rebels right chants slogans during a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters in in 2017. Hani Mohammed  AP

The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government began its assault Wednesday on Hodeida, the main entry point for food into a country already on the brink of starvation.

Seizing the port "means that the Houthis will no longer be able to impose their will at the barrel of a gun", he said in a post on Twitter.

Ahmed al-Kawkabani, a Yemeni who leads a force known as the Tohama Brigade, said his forces are now positioned in Dawar al-Hodeida, Arabic for "Hodeida roundabout".

A man stands by a relative, injured in clashes between government forces and Houthi fighters near Hodeidah, Yemen June 15, 2018.

"Liberating Hodeida and creating conditions favourable to achieving a negotiated settlement in Yemen will help to refocus full attention to the fight against AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and Daesh that present serious risks to other countries targeted by extremist groups".

'Despite the fact that UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths has been to San'aa several times and has held talks with Yemeni officials to find a political solution to the crisis, if he does what the ex-envoy Ismail Valad Sheikh Ahmad did he will fail, ' he added.

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The port city, which is the entry point for 70 to 80 percent of the food, medicine and aid supplies that enter Yemen, was previously controlled by Iranian-backed rebel forces.

The conflict and a partial blockade by the coalition have also left 22 million people in need of humanitarian aid, created the world's largest food emergency, and led to a cholera outbreak that is thought to have killed 2,290 people. Around two-thirds of Yemen's population of 27 million relies on aid, and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.

In a statement Saturday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said "we stand with our United Nations partners to call on all parties to the conflict to protect the port, and allow its uninterrupted functioning".

The highway between Hodeida and the government-held port of Mokha was also the scene of fighting, they said, adding that loyalist forces had suffered "losses".

The Saudi-led coalition feared the Houthis' power would give their rival regional power in Iran a foothold in Yemen, which shares its northern border with Saudi Arabia.

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

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The buffer has largely been successful in keeping the two offensives apart, but there have been exceptions. Israel also has struck shipments of advanced weapons from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon in the past.

The Saudi-led alliance says it can swiftly capture the port, the only one the Houthis control, without major disruption to aid supplies. "Operational priority is to avoid civilian casualties, maintain the flow of humanitarian aid, and allow for the United Nations to press the Houthis to evacuate the city".

Aly Omar and his family spent three days trapped in the Manzar neighborhood abutting the airport as fighting raged.

Relief worker Saber Wasel said: "Families are trapped inside and it is hard leaving as they are coming under airstrikes and bombardment by both parties of the war".

A pro-Houthi police trooper stands past a patrol vehicle in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen.

On the one hand, "the UAE has carved out a zone in southern Yemen that is both free of Iranian-backed militias and allows the USA to go after Al Qaeda and ISIS, and the United States is taking advantage of the UAE's hard work in southern Yemen to conduct more strikes against terrorist groups", Mr Heras told The National.

The ground offensive south of Hodeida is led by the United Arab Emirates, a key ally of both Saudi Arabia and the U.S. military.

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