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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Yemeni government troops fight Houthis near Hodeidah as Geneva talks falter

Government forces effectively cut a key rebel supply line to the Red Sea port

Yemeni government forces take part in military operations on Houthi positions in the port province of Hodeidah. EPA
Yemeni government forces take part in military operations on Houthi positions in the port province of Hodeidah. EPA

Yemeni government forces moved troops to cut rebel supply lines to the occupied Red Sea port of Hodeidah after Houthi rebels sparked fighting as their delegation delayed peace talks in Geneva when they failed to attend.

The main offensive to liberate Hodeidah was passed at the start of July to allow time for UN-led mediation efforts, however, the failure of a delegation from the Houthi rebels to attend the scheduled talks in Geneva on Thursday appears to have delayed the latest peace effort.

"The pro-government forces have been advancing deep [into Houthi territory] amid a fierce battle to capture the port of Hodeidah,” Aseel Al Sakladi, the director of the pro-government Al Amalikah brigade media centre, told The National.

“The push was started as the Houthis foiled the efforts exerted by the UN special envoy to Yemen when they refused to be engaged in the peace talks," he said.

There has been no official announcement of a renewed offensive to capture the city. However, a source in the Yemeni government delegation in Geneva downplayed Friday’s clashes as part of the ongoing operations around Hodeidah and he said that the fighting had been sparked by the Houthis.

After weeks of shuttling between different sides in the conflict, UN peace envoy Martin Griffiths scheduled the first formal peace talks in two years on Thursday. However, the Houthi delegation did not leave Sanaa, pushing talks to Friday. After still not arriving on Saturday, meaningful discussions were delayed for a future date.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said on Friday that the delay showed Houthis' lack of seriousness about finding a political solution to the war.

The Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Al Yamani dismissed the Houthi demands as "excuses".

"We came to Geneva ... ready and willing to delve into talks" on confidence-building, Mr Al Yamani told the Abu Dhabi-based Sky News channel.

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Read more:

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UAE's Anwar Gargash: Houthis are 'not committed' to Geneva peace talks

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The main focus of Friday’s fighting was to around key Houthi supply lines into Hodeidah as government forces sought to prevent reinforcement and supply of rebel militias holding the city.

"The pro-government forces advanced near of the port city of Hodeidah, which enabled them to impose fire control over Kilo 16, an intersection that links Sanaa, Hodeidah, Taez and Aden," Lt Shafiq Al Makraee, a commander in the Al Amalikah division that supports the government of Yemen, told The National.

“The route is considered a vital one for the Houthis because their military supplies come over from Sanaa and Ibb province to the north of Hodeidah", he added.

Lt Al Makraee said that government forces were within two kilometres of the intersection but were able to impose fire control, effectively severing the supply line.

Col Ahmed Al Julaihy, the operations staff officer in Al Amalikah second brigade, told the military-run news website 26 September that pro-government forces backed by the Arab Coalition aircraft were close to cutting all Houthi supply routes from Sanaa, Ibb and the province of Raiymah to the north of Hodeidah.

"By controlling Kilo 16, the route between Sanaa and Al Hodeidah and Ibb is totally cut. Moreover, the route that links Hodeidah with Taez and Aden in the South is under the pro-government forces fire. The only supply route remaining open to the Houthi militia is the one in Al Saleef area northeast of Hodeidah, which is going to be under the army fire soon," Col Al Julaihy was quoted as saying.

In Friday’s push, pro-government forces took control of large swathes to the east of Al Duraihimi near Kilo 16, Mr Al Sakladi said.

The central command of the Arab Coalition notified civilians to stay away from Kilo 16 and not use the road for the time being as it was an active military area.

Residents inside the city told The National that Houthi militia has been digging a big network of trenches to the south of Al Marawyah district in eastern Hodeidah as a line of defence to slow the advance of pro-government forces.

The coalition also destroyed a Houthi missile carrier in an air strike. "After identifying its exact location this dawn, the vehicle has been detected and dismantled," said Colonel Turki Al Maliki, the spokesman for the Coalition, on Saturday. Jets also destroyed a rebel radar site "that was being used to monitor the Coalition's aircraft in Mount Anam, in Sahar district, Saada, on Friday, killing all the technicians and experts inside the facility", he said.