Yemen's president returns to Aden from Saudi Arabia

Glen Norman
June 18, 2018

Forces from an alliance of Arab states seized two entrances to the airport in Yemen's main port city on Friday, in an offensive against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that the United Nations fears could trigger a starvation imperilling millions of lives.

Arab troops appeared poised to enter the airport of Yemen's main port, Hodeidah, on Friday as a Saudi-led alliance prepared to seize the city in the biggest battle of a three-year war.

But the government says the port is also used by opposition forces to bring in supplies.

Apart from Hudaida, the Houthis control the capital, Sanaa, and most of the country's populated areas.

The UN estimates some 600,000 people live in and around the city.

The United Nations says 22 million Yemenis need humanitarian aid and the number at risk of starvation could more than double to more than 18 million by year-end unless access improves.

"Depriving the Houthis of their control of Hodeidah port, at the Yemeni government's request, means that the Houthis will no longer be able to impose their will at the barrel of a gun".

Britain's United Nations ambassador Karen Pierce, who called the meeting, told reporters before it started that United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths has been trying to negotiate the withdrawal of the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, who control Hodeida.

"We are there and delivering, we are not leaving Hodeidah", U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande told media. Abdullah al-Rabeeah, the head of Saudi Arabia's King Salman Aid and Relief Centre, in a press conference Wednesday night sought to allay the fears of the global community.

Aid groups have warned for months that an assault on the port could disrupt the flow of relief supplies to Yemeni civilians, including an estimated eight million people who are at risk of starvation.

The battle for Hodeidah marks a major milestone in a war that has battered Yemen's civilians for years, since the Iran-backed Houthis overthrew the country's government.

Meanwhile, the USA, which has backed the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence, logistical support and aerial refueling of fighter jets, has not publicly opposed the assault but has urged the coalition to ensure that humanitarian aid deliveries to the port continue.

After a two-hour UN Security Council meeting, the 15-member body urged "all sides to uphold their obligations under worldwide humanitarian law", said Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, president of the council for June.

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

"The liberation of Hodeidah is the cornerstone of overthrowing the financial empire built by Houthis", said Ibrahim, another Sanaa citizen. Two Yemeni military officials allied to the coalition confirmed this.

"Heavy airstrikes have been reported along coastal areas and roads in districts south of Hodeida", AP quoted the Norwegian Refugee Council as saying. Approximately 80 per cent of the country's humanitarian aid enters though the port.

Writing in Britain's Telegraph newspaper, Dr Gargash said the increased rebel use of "sophisticated Iranian missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent months" had made it "abundantly clear that the UN's Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen has failed to staunch the flow of arms and material to Iran's proxy forces in Yemen". In a retaliatory operation, the Yemeni army fired a missile on positions of Saudi-backed mercenaries.

The coalition has blocked most ports, letting supplies into Hodeida in co-ordination with the U.N. The air campaign and fighting have disrupted other supply lines, causing an economic crisis that makes food too expensive for many to afford.

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.

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