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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Newly-deployed UAE-trained Yemeni forces key to Hodeidah victory

New troops arrive in Hodeidah following failed UN attempt to persuade Houthis to withdraw unconditionally

Yemeni government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition take position during an attack on Hodeidah, on the outskirts of the port city. Najeeb Al Mahboobi / EPA
Yemeni government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition take position during an attack on Hodeidah, on the outskirts of the port city. Najeeb Al Mahboobi / EPA

Members of the Tihama Brigade are returning to Yemen after receiving military training by UAE forces.

"A large number of our fighters are on their way to join their colleagues in the joint forces," Colonel Mohammed Al Himyari of the Tihama Brigade told The National.

"They have been preparing for an offensive to storm the city of Hodeidah," he said. "I can confirm that our fighters are very enthusiastic to advance and take over the city, which is our own city not the Houthis' land."

According to Col Al Himyari, the Tihama Brigade's grasp of the city's layout is key to the success of the operation.

"Our fighters are mostly coming from the city and they know all the details inside the city, they know where the Houthis have planted the mines and they know where the Houthi fighters are deployed so they can avert the advancing troops," the colonel said.

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On Friday, the Al Amalika Brigade recaptured Al Tahita directorate, south of Hodeidah, their media officer Aseel Al Sakladi told The National.

"Our forces stormed the centre of Al Tahita after a fierce battle with the Houthi militia," said Mr Al Sakladi, adding that 37 rebel fighters were killed by a coalition air strike and by members of Al Amalika.

The UAE state news agency WAM said dozens of Houthis had been captured during the battle, while those that fled had abandoned their weapons. Yemeni officials on Saturday said fighting between government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition and the rebels along the country's west coast has killed more than 165 people from both sides.

The UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths' failed attempt on Friday to persuade Houthi fighters to unconditionally withdraw from the city sparked the deployment of Al Amalika troops from Aden to the western outskirts of Hodeidah.

The UN Security Council said that "all parties" should work toward a political solution for Yemen, and repeated a call for Hodeidah to remain open.

The statements came after Mr Griffiths updated the Security Council via a video link from the region. The coalition said it had paused its campaign to retake Hodeidah in support of UN efforts as it called for rebels to make an "unconditional withdrawal" from the city.

However, the coalition and government forces are continuing their operations in other areas of Hodeidah province and rebel-held areas of Yemen. A coalition air strike on Saturday destroyed the Houthis' communications control systems in Haidan and Razeh districts of Sadaa province, the main stronghold of the rebel group.

The communications systems were very advanced and were operated by foreign experts, Ismail Al Sharafi, a journalist covering the government forces' operations in Sadaa, told The National.

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Residents of Hodeidah city say that Houthi rebels have taken to recruiting young boys from poor families in a last attempt to hold their ground.

In response, the Yemeni government welcomed a resolution by the Arab Parliament condemning the Houthi's recruitment of underage boys.

Ibtihaj Al Kamal, the social affairs and labour minister, said that so far this year Houthi rebels had recruited 2,500 children.

Mr Al Kamal praised the Arab Parliament's decision and called for the UN secretary general, the Security Council and international organisations to refer Houthi crimes to the International Criminal Court and hold rebel leaders accountable.

The recruitment of children under the age of 15 was recognised as a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which entered into force in 2002.

Hodeidah port is the entry point for some 70 per cent of imports to Yemen, where eight million people face a dire humanitarian situation, and provides a lifeline for the 22 million Yemenis dependent on humanitarian aid.

Aid distribution to Hodeidah civilians by the UAE and the Emirates Red Crescent has been ongoing. According to WAM, 9,900 food baskets have been distributed throughout 13 liberated districts, with more than 69,300 people benefiting from them in June.

The UAE aid authority has developed an integrated plan to deliver relief to afflicted areas of the governorate. The ERC has provided bed nets and blankets, in addition to doctors and nurses to help support displaced families.

Meanwhile on Friday evening a ballistic missile fired by the Houthis towards Jazan in Saudi Arabia was intercepted by the kingdom's royal air defence, a spokesman for the Arab coalition said.

Col Turki Al Malki said the missile was fired from Amran in Yemen and was aimed at populated areas.