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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Why the battle for Hodeidah is important

Capturing Yemen's fourth largest city could precede the downfall of the Houthis

A ship unloads its shipment of grain at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. Abduljabbar Zeyad / Reuters
A ship unloads its shipment of grain at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. Abduljabbar Zeyad / Reuters

The Houthi-held Red Sea city of Hodeidah lies in a strategic location on Yemen’s western coast, providing access to the Bab Al Mandeb, connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

The Arab coalition has begun an operation to recapture Hodeidah. Securing Yemen’s largest port city would protect international trade from the threat of Houthi disruption and could be the final step in launching a military campaign to recapture the rebel-held capital, Sanaa.

Providing the fastest route from Europe to Asia, the Bab Al Mandeb waterway is 30 kilometres wide at its narrowest, making the trade route vulnerable to attacks.

Bab Al Mandeb, which translates to “Gate of Tears,” is the fourth busiest shipping choke-point in the world. More than four million barrels of oil pass through daily.

Last month, a Saudi oil tanker came under attack from Houthi naval forces.

The Arab Coalition, which has been fighting on behalf of the internationally-recognised government of Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, earlier this year destroyed naval mines believed to be planted by the Houthis.

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Yemeni forces prepare to recapture Hodeidah

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Control of Hodeidah would also provide a strategic base from which to launch a campaign to recapture Sanaa, less than a day’s drive from the coastal city.

The Arab Coalition says recapturing the city would provide an opportunity to provide much needed humanitarian aid ahead of a possible second cholera outbreak.

Last year, more than a million residents of the Arab world's poorest country contracted the water-borne disease. It was the worst cholera outbreak in recent history, with more than 2,000 killed.

Doctor’s without Border’s earlier this year warned that cases of cholera are likely to intensify during Yemen’s rainy season, which lasts from mid-April to end of August.

Houthis have maintained control over Hodeidah since the rebel overthrow of the government in 2015.

Both sides have imposed blockades on the port, which handles 80 per cent of the country’s food imports and the majority of humanitarian aid.

In December, the coalition blockaded the port for three weeks after reports emerged that the Iran-backed rebels were using the port to smuggle in arms and ballistic missiles. Under international pressure, the Saudi-led coalition later reopened the port to allow in aid.

In 2016, a UN-chartered ship carrying humanitarian aid was forced to turn back after coming under Houthi fire.

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