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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 July 2018

Only an unconditional withdrawal by the Houthis will end the battle in Hodeidah

Iran's proxies have demonstrated beyond doubt their contempt for the welfare of Yemen's people

Family members have breakfast at a school to which they have been evacuated from a village near Hodeidah airport amid fighting between government forces and Houthi fighters in Hodeidah, Yemen June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad
Family members have breakfast at a school to which they have been evacuated from a village near Hodeidah airport amid fighting between government forces and Houthi fighters in Hodeidah, Yemen June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

Over the past three years, the Houthis have had opportunities aplenty to relinquish violence and engage in a political process to bring the conflict in Yemen to and end. If the welfare of the Yemeni people mattered at all to them, they would have prioritised peace. That they chose instead to stamp on the international community’s overtures is a measure of their contempt for the millions enduring Houthi misrule.

The ongoing battle for Hodeidah, as Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said on Monday, confirms that the “Houthis don’t want a political process”. The Saudi-led Arab coalition’s offensive to liberate the port city, launched last Wednesday, has resulted in the rapid dissolution of the Houthis’ stranglehold; the port and airport are in the process of being secured and aid is being delivered to large sections of the population. But rather than retreat – and thus spare the population further anguish – the Houthis have started using civilians under their control as human shields to defend their remaining positions. Persuading them to cease and desist, said Dr Gargash, was like pulling a "rabbit out of a hat".

As The National reports, combatants captured by Yemeni forces have revealed distressing stories of homes being stormed by Houthi gunmen in regions under their control and able-bodied men being given a “choice” at gunpoint: prison or conscription. This heinous tactic clarifies to the world, lest there was any doubt, that Yemen’s populace are effectively being held by hostage by the Houthis. Meanwhile, as Dr Gargash pointed out, Iran has smuggled in sophisticated material – armour-piercing weaponry, advanced ballistic missiles and unmanned drones – not previously seen in this environment.

The Houthis on Sunday fired an Iran-supplied ballistic missile at Saudi Arabia from Yemen’s Saada province. This was not an isolated incident: Saudi Arabia has witnessed 150 such attacks. The most recent projectile – intercepted by the Saudi Royal Air Force before it could do any damage – was followed by a drone loaded with explosives and dispatched in the direction of coalition forces in Yemen. It was shot down in time by the Yemeni army. Both attacks are reminders of Iran’s baleful role in fortifying the Houthis and its complicity in the suffering of Yemen’s besieged population.

Despite everything, the total defeat of the Houthis to the coalition and Yemeni forces in Hodeidah is inevitable. The objective now is stopping the Houthis from maximising human loss. Martin Griffiths, the United Nations envoy, will brief the UN Security Council after two days of talks with the Houthis in Sanaa. But the writing on the wall is blindingly clear: Iran’s proxies stand no chance against the Saudi-led coalition. Their refusal to withdraw unconditionally from Hodeidah – and the threat to blow up the city's infrastructure – will only prolong the suffering of the ordinary men, women and children. They have a final opportunity to do the right thing by the people they have abused for years. Their history, however, suggests they will not take it.