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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Battle for Hodeidah erupts as pro-government forces strike Houthi rebels

Coalition warns residents to stay indoors as clashes break out

Pro-government fighters look for Houthi rebel positions on a frontline east of Hodeidah port city, Yemen. Getty Images
Pro-government fighters look for Houthi rebel positions on a frontline east of Hodeidah port city, Yemen. Getty Images

Clashes between Houthi rebels and government forces near Yemen's port city of Hodeidah broke out late on Wednesday, residents told The National.

The renewal of violence in the contested city saw UAE Apache helicopters target Houthi vehicles on the road stretching from Hodeidah airport to the university inside the city.

According to a resident, the exchange of fire took place in Kilo 10, east of Hodeidah, where Iran-backed Houthi fighters were shelling from within residential areas.

The resident, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussion, said rebel fighters had been shelling pro-government areas indiscriminately while taking cover in residential areas.

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The Arab Coalition cautioned residents to avoid Houthi gatherings and to stay indoors, worried that civilians would get caught in the crossfire.

The renewed offensive follows the deployment by the Arab coalition of new forces near Hodeidah, including highly trained brigades equipped with "new modern military equipment," said Colonel Mamoon Al Mahjami the spokesman for the Giant Brigade.

"Thousands of trained fighters including thousands of Sudanese soldiers were transported to the southern areas of the port city of Hodeidah as a part of big preparations for a wider offensive aimed to be launched in the two weeks to take full control over the city and its ports," Col Al Mahjami said.

The coalition said on Wednesday night that navigation into Hodeidah's port would not be interrupted. At least six vessels docked in the harbour while another four vessels were on waiting for permission to enter.

Also on Wednesday 10 Houthi fighters were killed and 19 injured in an air strike just south of Hodeidah. The Arab coalition-backed forces say the strike targeted a Houthi gathering close to a fruit and vegetable market. In the Bayt Al Faqih the hospital director told Associated Press the victims were all civilians.

Yemeni security officials confirmed the strike but didn't know what the intended target was.

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Dangerous waters

An estimated 300,000 fishermen still ply the waters of Yemen's Red Sea coast amid the Saudi-led coaltion's battle to recapture Hoidedah from Houthi rebels.

The fishermen try to avoid coalition warships, which are on the lookout for weapons smugglers and rebels armed with rockets and explosives.

They also risk being hit by Houthi rocket attacks on Red Sea shipping off Yemen's coast.

The fishermen share advice on Facebook, warning each other to avoid international waters; to stay five kilometers from any ships; and to wave white flags or fish in the air if one approaches them.

The fishermen used to stay out at sea for 15 days at a time, but now the trips are much shorter, and the catches smaller. The price of fish has gone up as a result, making it too expensive for many Yemenis and further squeezing the fishermen.

"Hunger is harder than fear," says fisherman Ahmed said. "It's scary for me to go out because I don't know if I will return or not, but how do I live seeing my family not able to feed itself?"

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