Published: Thu, June 14, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Assault on Yemen's largest port threatens to increase mass starvation

Assault on Yemen's largest port threatens to increase mass starvation

The Saudi-led coalition backs the exiled government of Yemen, as it battles Iran-backed Shia rebels.

Witnesses described heavy fighting to the city's south, near its airport.

Yemen's government said on Tuesday that negotiations had failed to force the rebels from Hodeida, and that a grace period for UN-led peace efforts was over.

The fear is that a protracted fight could force a shutdown of Hodeida's port at a time when a halt in aid risks tipping millions into starvation.

Aid agencies warned that the crucial battle in the three-year-old conflict could push the Arab world's poorest country into further chaos. "The coalition warship was burned and other battleships retreated after seeing the fire", the statement said, according to Saba news agency.

Meanwhile, according to The Wall Street Journal, there are signs that the USA military is deepening its role in the assault on Hudaydah, in spite of United Nations warnings of massive human casualties.

Before the war, over 70 percent of Yemen's food and fuel imports came through Hodeida, accounting for over 40 percent of the nation's customs income.

In reality, families in Hudaydah are already starving and desperately relying on humanitarian aid. "Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes", said Jolien Veldwijk, acting country director of the aid group CARE International, which works in Hodeida.

The initial battle plan appeared to involve a pincer movement.

In a joint statement, the two sides shed light on the flagrant violations committed by the Houthi militias in Hodeida port, barring foreign assistance to be delivered to the needy inside Yemen, confiscating the contents of vessels waiting outside the docks of the port to unload the aid.

Emirati forces with Yemeni government troops moved in from the south near Hodeida's airport, while others sought to cut off Houthi supply lines to the east, the officials said.

A view of cranes, damaged by air strikes, at the container terminal of the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen November 30, 2017.

It reported the "martyrdom" of the four Emirati soldiers but did not give further details of the fighting.

Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi has warned the group will attack oil tankers in the event of an assault on Hodeidah.

Forces loyal to Yemen's exiled government and irregular fighters led by Emirati troops had neared Hudaida in recent days.

The re-taking of Hodeidah Port will also represent a major development as it will mean the fall of last key entry point for smuggled weapons to Houthis and pave the road for liberating the remaining coastal governorates in northern Yemen and for regaining control of this main gateway to the capital Sana'a.

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

The United Nations on Monday withdrew its worldwide staff from Hodeida, saying an attack would "impact hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians".

Previously, worldwide aid agencies voiced alarm over the "looming disaster,"stressing that a battle will jeopardize the delivery of the scarce humanitarian aid desperately needed by the civilian population".

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

"The battle for Hodeidah will nearly certainly result in a huge loss of civilian life and damage to vital infrastructure", said Tamer Kirolos, Yemen Country Director for Save the Children.

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

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has raised alarm over the plight of Hodeida's 300,000 children and the risk that drinking water supplies will be disrupted.

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