Emirati-backed Yemen forces seize control of Hodeida airport

Emirati-backed Yemen forces seize control of Hodeida airport
The capture of Hodeida airport from Houthi rebels marks a major step toward retaking the key port city.
2 min read
20 June, 2018
Pro-government forces outside Hodeida airport [Getty]

Emirati-led Yemeni government forces seized Hodeida airport from Houthi rebels on Wednesday, a major step toward retaking the key port city. 

"The airport was completely cleared, Thank God, and is under control," said Abdul Salaam al-Shehi, the coalition commander for the Red Sea coast, said in a video published by the UAE-run WAM news agency. 

Government forces broke through the airport perimeter fence on Tuesday sparking heavy fighting in which at least 33 rebels and 19 soldiers were killed.

Last Wednesday, they launched an offensive to clear Hodeida of rebel fighters who have held it since 2014, after the Houthis overran the area along with the capital Sanaa and much of northern Yemen. 

The Hodeida airport is disused but housed a major rebel base just inland from the coast road into the city.

It lies five miles south of the city's port, through which three-quarters of Yemen's imports pass, providing a lifeline for some 22 million people dependent on aid.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths held four days of talks in the rebel-held capital Sanaa in a bid to avert an all-out battle for the city but flew out on Tuesday without announcing any breakthrough.

The UAE and other members of a Saudi-led coalition that intervened in support of the government in 2015 have accused regional arch foe Iran of using Hodeida as conduit for arms smuggling to the rebels. Tehran has denied the allegation.

Hodeida's residents are now bracing for what they fear will be devastating street fighting, with some 5,200 families, or about 26,000 people, fleeing their homes as pro-government forces advance. 

The offensive dubbed Operation Golden Victory is now the most intense battlefront in a war that has left 10,000 dead and millions more displaced. The UN calls Yemen the "world's worst humanitarian crisis," with 8 million people on the brink of famine. 

The Saudi-led coalition has insisted that the Houthis must "withdraw unconditionally" from Hodeida, with aid groups warning that the offensive will spark a fresh humanitarian crisis. 

The UAE has ground forces based in Yemen mostly in coastal areas, particularly in the port city of Aden and the island of Socotra. Experts say Abu Dhabi is using the war to carve out key territories along the coast, which would provide the UAE with strategic control of waterways around the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea. 

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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