Dubai: Yemeni government forces, supported by the Arab Coalition, started on Wednesday a major offensive to liberate the western city of Hodeidah and its strategic port from Iran-allied Al Houthis.
The assault marks the first time the Arab states have tried to capture such a heavily-defended major Red Sea port city since they joined the war three years ago against the militants, who control the capital Sana’a and most of the populated areas.
The operation comes after Al Houthis consistently rejected peace proposals, in the past and under the current UN Envoy Martin Griffiths, to head off the onslaught by ceding to the port’s control over to a neutral party.
Shortly after the launch of the operation codenamed the “Golden Victory”, Yemeni forces retook the suburb of Nekhailah from Al Houthis amid collapses in their ranks, the Yemeni army said.
Coalition air strikes and warships pounded Al Houthi positions in the city, home to the Hodeida port that receives most humanitarian aid and trade to Yemen.
In Abu Dhabi, Reem Ebrahim Al Hashemi, Minister of State for International Cooperation, has said the Arab coalition has prepared a large-scale and comprehensive plan for the rapid delivery of humanitarian aid to the governorate of Hodeida, and surrounding areas.
The minister said food and essential supplies have been stocked and prepared for immediate delivery. “We have ships, planes, and trucks with food supplies and medicine to address the immediate needs of the people,” she said.
Al Hashemi added, “Hodeida port remains open to shipping.
Should Al Houthis attempt to further damage and destroy any port or logistics infrastructure, we have also put contingency plans in place to move aid by other methods to Hodeida and points beyond.
On top of the $14 billion the coalition has already given in aid to Yemen, we continue to work with aid agencies on the ground to ensure that once the port is liberated, we will quickly increase the capacity of the port and the amount of aid flowing through it.”
“The coalition successfully implemented similar large-scale operations when it liberated Aden, Mukalla and Mokha, which led to considerable improvement in people’s lives. In each area the coalition has liberated, the local people are now better off than under Al Houthi or Al Qaida control,” she added.
State employees coerced to fight
Meanwhile, A Yemeni social media entrepreneur has accused Al Houthi militants of coercing state employees into going to Hodeida ahead of a major fight over the port city.
“Al Houthis are forcing governmental employees in different intuitions to join the front lines in Hodeida,” Faizah Al Sulaimani posted on her Twitter account.
They threaten: “either you go now [to Hodeida] or you will be arrested immediately and then get killed as a traitor.”
The post came as Yemeni forces, backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, launched their long-anticipated assault on the strategic Red Sea port city early on Wednesday.
“What a barbaric action!!! Sending hundreds of thousands of civilians to die!!!” Faizah, a senior relations and communication officer at Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Service (SMEPS), said.
The development specialist posted a list of names of state employees who had been ordered on June 11 to go to Hodeida.
“There are other lists from other departments in the interior, defence and moral guidance. Either you follow the orders or you get executed for treason!,” she posted.
The Red Sea port city of Hodeida is the fourth-largest city in Yemen.