Arab Coalition ready to push into Hodeidah city: Gargash
But Houthi rebels continue to attack airport compound with explosive drones, The National correspondent Ali Mahmood reports from Hodeidah airport
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash has said that Arab-Coalition backed forces in Yemen are ready to push into Hodeidah city after secured the nearby airport.
In a statement released on WAM, Dr Gargash noted that government-aligned Yemeni forces had secured the city’s airport after several days of fierce fighting. "With Hodeidah airport now securely in the hands of the Yemeni Government, the Coalition is ready to begin the next phase of its military and humanitarian operations to liberate Hodeidah and to protect the already fragile civilian population and the overall humanitarian situation."
The statement added that there was an “increased urgency” to the operation, following reports the Houthis “are purposefully and deliberately seeking to create a humanitarian crisis and to exacerbate the overall conflict”.
However, commanders in Hodeidah told The National that a push into the city would not take place until Saturday, and that no operations were scheduled to take place on Friday.
Dr Gargash noted reports that Houthis had disrupted the city’s water supply by digging defensive berms, indiscriminately laid landmines and IEDs on roads and in civilian neighbourhoods, as well as placing sea mines in and around the city’s port, which has been described as a humanitarian lifeline for Yemen.
UAE forces in the country carried out awareness sessions on Thursday to teach children about the threat of landmines and how to identify them, WAM reported.
Images posted to social media on Monday showed trenches dug across Hodeidah’s main intersection had ruptured sewage and water pipes, and representatives from the Norwegian Refugee Council confirmed on Wednesday that many neighbourhoods in the city had been left without water as a result.
Houthi fighters attempted to push back towards into the airport, including with explosive-loaded drones, one of which government fighters shot down.
"The Arab Coalition will not — and the International community should not — allow the Houthis to hide behind, mistreat and manipulate the civilian population,” Dr Gargash warned.
“We cannot allow the Houthis to divert us from the strategic goals of the operation and our collective efforts to accelerate a peaceful settlement for Yemen and all of the Yemeni people."
The announcement comes nine days after the start of the offensive to take back the port city. Recent days have seen fierce fighting over the airport, which cradles the city’s southern perimeter.
Coalition commander Brigadier Abdul Salaam Al Shehi told The National on Wednesday that at least 250 Houthi fighters had been killed in the battle for the airport, with a further 87 taken prisoner.
The UN reported earlier this week that around 5,200 families had fled the city as fighting neared the urban areas.
Alex Mello, a security analyst at Horizon Acccess, noted that the environs of urban Hodeidah would likely see a change in tactics from the rebel groups. “The Houthis will probably try to adapt their usual fighting style to urban areas.”
“[We will see them] Fighting in very, small, dispersed groups, drawing on pre-positioned caches, relying heavily on snipers, mortar fire.”
Meanwhile, in an effort to stave off a humanitarian crisis, Emirates Red Crescent announced the dispatch of an aid convoy carrying some 10,000 food baskets from Aden to Hodeidah.
Updated: June 22, 2018 01:11 PM