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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 January 2019

Arab Coalition bombs Sanaa air base to stop Houthi terror attack

Government allies warn Houthis to stop shelling troops and neighbourhoods on outskirts of Hodeidah

Yemeni men stand at the back of an armed pick in the capital Sanaa on December 19, 2018.
Yemeni men stand at the back of an armed pick in the capital Sanaa on December 19, 2018.

The Arab Coalition bombed an air base in Yemen’s rebel-held capital on Wednesday to prevent a terror attack on its forces by the Houthi militia.

In comments aired by Saudi state-run TV, the coalition said it struck the air base next to Sanaa's international airport, destroying a rocket launcher and a drone that it said was preparing to carry out an attack.

The coalition said the Houthis are using the airport "as a military camp in violation of international humanitarian law".

The comments came as a ceasefire around the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah largely held on Wednesday.

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Reopening Sanaa airport was among key issues discussed in peace talks in Sweden earlier this month, but the warring parties did not make progress on the topic.

One proposal from the rebels was for Sanaa-bound aircraft to stop at another city in the region for inspection before proceeding to the Yemeni capital. The internationally recognised government proposed that Sanaa-bound aircraft be inspected in the southern port city of Aden.

More discussions on the airport are expected in the next round of peace talks in January.

Also on Wednesday, the Yemeni government appointed three military commanders as representatives to a UN-organised committee set to monitor the ceasefire in Hodeidah.

Members of the Houthi group and UN mission to Yemen will join the government representatives to oversee the withdrawal of armed forces from the port city, a military source told The National.

Fishermen rest on their boats before fishing at the main fishing port in Hodeidah, Yemen. Officials in Yemen said a cease-fire took effect at midnight on Monday. AP
Fishermen rest on their boats at the main fishing port in Hodeidah. AP

Brig Sagheer Aziz, Brig Mohamed Eidha and Maj Gen Ahmed Al Kukabani attended the first meeting for the Redeployment Co-ordination Committee on Wednesday. The Houthis have yet to name their representatives.

The committee will be given two weeks to organise the complete withdrawal of armed forces.

Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy to Yemen, said “neutral forces” would be given the task of maintaining security in the country’s biggest port, through which more than 70 per cent of aid enters a country with 14 million people on the brink of famine.

Hodeidah’s deputy mayor, Waleed Al Qudaimi, said the Houthis shelled pro-government forces on the outskirts of the city.

The Houthis claimed government forces were bombing rebel camps east of the airport and within the University of Hodeidah.

Col Withah Al Dubaish, spokesman of the Giant Brigade, a southern faction aligned with the Yemeni government, told The National that his forces would not stand and watch as the Houthis breached the ceasefire.

"Our forces will stay highly equipped. We are ready to inflict a fatal blow on them and finalise taking over the city and the ports in case the Houthis continue to break the ceasefire,” Col Al Dubaish said.

The Giant Brigade has suspended all military operations but remain within striking distance of Hodeidah port.

“We stopped to give a chance for the international community to implement the political resolution, otherwise our response will be tough and strict, in case the Houthis keep playing their dirty game inside the city," Col Al Dubaish said.

South of Hodeidah city, the Houthis reportedly shelled residences and attacked the market in the populated city of Hays. More than 80 per cent of Hodeidah’s 650,000 residents have fled and settled in the surrounding areas, fearing renewed violence.

Many regard the recent clashes as a precursor to a breakdown in the political solution. Raed Shayef, a journalist working in Yemen, expects the ceasefire to break down within days.

“The Houthis are using this as an opportunity to muster their forces and then they will return to fighting. They would not accept handing over the city because that will cut them off their main supply route,” Mr Shayef said.

Despite the turbulent ceasefire, Yemeni military in the interim capital of Aden remain hopeful for a peaceful resolution to a war that has claimed thousands of lives and triggered the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

Col Mohammed Hizam of the Yemeni army said the truce provided the Houthis with their only chance of survival.

"I am sure the ceasefire will be achieved because the Houthis see that it will save them because they can’t fight any more. Now they can feel safe after drawing their last breath in the city, “ he said.

Updated: December 19, 2018 08:34 PM

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