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Battle for Hodeidah: Hundreds dead as Arab coalition takes international airport from Houthi rebels

Saudi and UAE forces launched assault despite fears over impact on aid effort

Peter Stubley
Saturday 16 June 2018 14:57 BST
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Footage shows gunfire at Yemeni port town Hodeidah

Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen have seized the international airport at the key city of Hodeidah from Houthi rebels, according to military officials.

The battle for control of the main gateway for food shipments has already claimed at least 280 lives and it is feared protracted fighting will leave millions at risk of starvation.

International aid groups and the United Nations had cautioned the Arab coalition before it launched the assault on the Red Sea port on Wednesday because of its importance to the humanitarian aid effort.

The coalition, which includes United Arab Emirates forces, Sudanese and Yemenis, with air support from Saudi Arabia, say they have “exhausted all other options to protect Yemeni civilians and to ensure the safe passage of aid shipments”.

They claim the port has been used to smuggle weapons from Iran and provides millions of dollars for the Houthi rebels through customs control.

Aid agencies and the UN evacuated international staff from the city but thousands remain besieged in the city and around the airport due to the fighting.

An injured girl being treated in a Unicef-backed hospital in Hodeidah (Unicef Nederland) (UNICEF Nederland)

Victory for the Arab alliance could put the Iranian-backed Houthis in their weakest position since the conflict erupted three years ago and cut off supply lines to the rebel-controlled capital, Sana’a.

On Saturday the media office of the Yemeni military announced on Twitter: “Army forces backed by the resistance and the Arab alliance freed Hodeidah international airport from the grip of the Houthi militia.”

Engineers are working to clear mines from areas around their airport, just south of the city.

Aly Omar told Reuters news agency that he and his family spent three days trapped in the Manzar neighbourhood near the airport as fighting raged all around them.

“We didn’t have any food, or drink or anything, not even water,” Omar said, standing in a hospital on Friday night beside his son, who was wounded by an air strike.

“I treated him on a bus after he was injured in an air strike, which is unacceptable. I call on the United Nations and the Red Cross to open a way for us to get out of the situation we’re in. Our kids, women and elderly are stuck.”

Samy Mansour, head of the emergency room at Al-Thawra hospital, said he had received two dead and 12 wounded: ”We’re still treating people on the scene and transporting them to the hospital.”

Relief worker Saber Wasel said: “Families are trapped inside and there is difficulty leaving as they are coming under airstrikes and bombardment by both parties of the war.”

Airstrikes, blockades and fighting have killed more than 10,000 people since the war began in 2015 and the conflict has become part of the proxy war between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran across the Middle East.

Around two-thirds of the country’s population of 27 million rely on aid, and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.

The UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is due to arrive in Sana’a on Saturday.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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