United Nations calls for Yemeni port top be kept open

Yemeni forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition gather near the outskirts of the western port city of Hodeidah Yemen June 12 2018. Najeeb Almahboobi  EPA

Fighting In Yemen Port City Threatens Aid Shipments

Yemeni forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition launched an assault on Wednesday to retake the port city of Hodeida, which has been controlled by the Iran-backed Huthi rebels along with the capital Sanaa since 2014.

Western countries have quietly backed the Arab coalition, but the threat of humanitarian catastrophe could unravel that support.

The Houthis, from a Shia minority, deny being Tehran's pawns and say they took power in a popular revolt and are defending Yemen from invasion by its neighbours.

Fighting raged near Hudaida airport and al-Durayhmi, a rural area 10km south of the city, UAE's WAM news agency said. "This comes from this seaport".

The ambassador's comments contradict the conclusions of a United Nations panel of experts that said it was unlikely the Houthis were using the port for smuggling arms.

According to the official, the minesweeper request, which was made because the coalition believes the Houthi rebels have been placing mines in the port, was redirected to France, which agreed.

"This coalition will start to operate an air and sea bridge, as well as land, to transport aid and medical supplies, food, shelter and fuel other basic necessities to Hodeida province", he told reporters. Ambassador Vasily A Nebenzia of Russian Federation, the 15-member council's president for June, told reporters that it "urged all sides to uphold their obligations under global law". The council, however, maintained that no direct attacks have been reported within Hodeida city despite the presence of fighter jets.

The battle for Hodeidah marks a major milestone in a war that has battered Yemen's civilians for years, since the Iran-backed Houthis overthrew the country's government.

They struck some 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Hodeida, in a diversion from the frontline fighting around the city's disused airport.

The Saudi-Emirati coalition bombed Houthi positions while rebels said in a statement that they fired a ballistic missile at pro-government forces, but gave no report of causalities.

With logistical support from the U.S., the Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out attacks inside Yemen since March 2015, killing at least 10,000 people, in an attempt to reinstate the internationally recognised government of President Abu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. 30 rebels were said to be killed.

"It is time for the Security Council to call for an immediate freeze of the military attack on Hodeida", Swedish U.N. envoy Carl Skau said ahead of the meeting.

"Yesterday, even as the city was being shelled and bombarded, a U.N. -contracted vessel, which is docked at Hodeidah port, off-loaded thousands of metric tons of food", U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, said in a statement.

"There is no substitute for Hodeida".

"At every step along the way the Houthis will be given opportunities to retreat, to disarm and to come back to the negotiating process", she said.

Yemen's foreign minister Khaled Alyemany said on Thursday that forces were holding off an advance on the port area amid concern that the flow of aid could be affected.

The coalition's initial battle plan appears to involve a pincer movement.

Pro-government Yemeni forces tweeted they had captured the airport entrance and were advancing down the main road towards the port. This was confirmed by two Yemeni military officials allied to the coalition. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to brief journalists. Al-Zaabi, the UAE ambassador in Geneva, said they died in the Hodeida campaign, without elaborating.

Hodeida, home of almost 700,000 people, is some 150 kilometres (90 miles) southwest of Sanaa, Yemen's capital, which is under Houthi control.

Two Saudi and UAE aid ships were in the waters off Hudaida; coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki told Saudi state media.

Their fear is that a protracted fight could force a shutdown of Hodeida's port at a time when a halt in aid risks tipping millions into starvation.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has called for an emergency session as the Saudi-Emirati military assault on the Yemeni port city of Hudaida entered its second day.

Almost 10,000 people have been killed since the alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015, contributing to what the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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