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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Arab coalition and Yemeni forces seize Hodeidah airport from Houthis 

UN envoy lands in Yemen for emergency talks on crucial port city

A column of Yemeni government forces and vehicles move closer to the western port city of Al Hodeidah, Yemen, on June 15, 2018. Najeeb Al Mahboobi / EPA
A column of Yemeni government forces and vehicles move closer to the western port city of Al Hodeidah, Yemen, on June 15, 2018. Najeeb Al Mahboobi / EPA

United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths held emergency talks in rebel-held Sanaa on Saturday, as Yemeni government forces – backed by an Arab coalition – seized control of the airport of the key port city of Hodeidah from the Houthi rebels.

“Army forces backed by the resistance and the Arab alliance liberated Hodeidah International Airport from the grip of the Houthi militias, and teams continue to clear the airport and its surroundings of mines and explosive devices,” the media office of the Yemeni military tweeted.

A source with the military said troops had surrounded the main airport building.

"We need some time to make sure there are no gunmen, mines or explosive in the building," the source told Reuters.

Mr Griffiths is expected to propose to the Houthis that they relinquish control of Hodeidah to a UN-supervised committee. On Saturday evening, Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, tweeted his support for Mr Griffiths's mission.

The UN envoy – who is due to present a peace plan to the Security Council next week – did not speak to reporters upon arriving at Sanaa International Airport.

UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (C) is escorted by bodyguards as he arrives at Sanaa airport in Yemen on June 16, 2018. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters
UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (C) is escorted by bodyguards as he arrives at Sanaa airport in Yemen on June 16, 2018. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed bin Saeed Al Jaber, and the UAE's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Shakhbout bin Nahyan Al Nahyan, met with envoys of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council at the kingdom's Foreign Ministry on Saturday.

They discussed the latest developments in Yemen, including humanitarian efforts, reported the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

"The liberation of the port and the city of Hodeidah will allow for the liberation of humanitarian efforts from the grips of the Houthi militias and from their terrorism ... [they] are using the port to serve their interests and smuggling weapons provided to them by Iran, prolonging the war, impoverishment, and starvation of the Yemeni people," Mr Al Jaber told SPA.

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He said Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait had offered more than a third of the donations to support the UN Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen in 2018.

"The coalition will work immediately after the liberation of the port to deliver more humanitarian aid to Yemen," Mr Al Jaber said, adding: "The port will be a lifeline for Yemenis and not a conduit for weapons of death and destruction and for the illegal activity of the Houthi militias."

The ambassador said in a tweet that Hodeidah port "remains open".

Fighting between Yemeni forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi and the Iran-backed rebels intensified on Saturday as the coalition continued to bomb Houthi positions.

The coalition intervened in the Yemen war in March 2015 at the request of Mr Hadi's government.

The offensive on rebel-held Hodeidah, which was launched on Wednesday, is the first time since the coalition joined the war that they have attempted to capture such a well-defended city. Their aim is to box the Houthis into the capital Sanaa, to cut their supply lines and force them to the negotiating table.

Hodeidah's port handles 80 per cent of essential goods going into Yemen, which the UN says is grappling with the world's worst humanitarian crisis. About 8.4 million people in Yemen face conditions close to famine, according to the World Health Organisation.

The coalition, however, says the Houthis have used the port to smuggle Iranian-supplied weapons into Yemen and also to profit from illegally sold humanitarian aid.

The coalition is confident it can capture the port without major disruption to aid supplies.