Nearly 150 killed in Yemen's Hodeida as battle rages on

Nearly 150 killed in Yemen's Hodeida as battle rages on
At least 149 people have been killed as the battle between government loyalists and Houthi rebels move to residential areas in Hodeida.
4 min read
12 November, 2018
Clashes have severely affected the civilians in Hodeida [Getty]

At least 149 people have been killed in 24 hours of clashes in Yemen's vital port city of Hodeida, medics and military sources said Monday, as international pressure mounted for a ceasefire.

Government loyalists backed by a Saudi-led coalition are fighting to oust Houthi rebels from the Red Sea city, whose port is a lifeline to 14 million Yemenis who face mass starvation.

A source in the pro-government coalition said the insurgents had pushed back a large-scale assault on the rebel-held port.

Government forces, led on the ground by Emirati-backed troops, have made their way into rebel-held Hodeida after 11 days of clashes, reaching residential neighbourhoods in the east on Sunday and sparking fears of street fights that would further endanger civilians trapped in the city. 

Residents and government military sources have reported rebel snipers stationed on rooftops in civilian streets in eastern Hodeida, a few miles from the port on the western edge of the city.

Mariam Aldogani, Save the Children's field coordinator in Yemen, said that the people in Hodeida are living in a "state of fear".

"There is ongoing fighting, and the situation is very bad," she said.

"In the last 30 mins there were more than 15 airstrikes, 15... This should stop immediately, this is the worst period for Hodeidah governorate, especially Hodeidah City. This is the worst time for Hodeidah children."

The Hodeida offensive has sparked international outcry unprecedented in nearly four years of conflict between Yemen's Houthis, who are linked to Iran, and the Saudi-backed government. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday urged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a major ally of Washington, to engage in peace talks.

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will visit Saudi Arabia on Monday, where he will press King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed to support UN efforts to end the conflict, the Foreign Office said.

Both the US and the UK are major suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia. 

Hunt will also meet senior officials from Yemen and the crown prince of the UAE, a key pillar of the Saudi-led coalition supporting the Yemeni government.

"The human cost of war in Yemen is incalculable," Hunt said ahead of his trip. "The only solution is now a political decision to set aside arms and pursue peace."

Aid groups fear for the safety of nearly 600,000 people living in Hodeida - and for millions of others dependent on its port for what little food and humanitarian aid trickle into impoverished, blockaded Yemen.

Civilians killed

A military official in Hodeida on Monday confirmed seven civilians had died, without giving further details. 

Medics in hospitals across the city reported 110 rebels and 32 loyalist fighters killed overnight, according to a tally. 

Sources at the al-Alfi military hospital, seized by the rebels during their 2014 takeover, said charred body parts had been delivered there overnight. Military sources confirmed that the Saudi-led alliance had targeted the rebels with multiple air strikes.

The rebels have begun to evacuate their wounded to Sanaa, the capital, which the Houthis seized during a 2014 takeover that included a string of ports on Yemen's coastline.

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the Yemeni government's fight against the Iran-backed Houthis in 2015, triggering what the UN now calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis. 

The Saudi-led alliance drove the rebels from the Yemeni coast, but have failed to retake Hodeida despite multiple attempts. 

Nearly 600 people have been killed since clashes erupted in Hodeida on November 1, ending a temporary suspension in a government offensive to take the city that began in June.

International pressure

The Saudi-led alliance has come under intense international pressure to end the conflict in Yemen, particularly following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist killed in his country's consulate in Istanbul on October 2, was an ardent critic of Prince Mohammed, who has spearheaded the kingdom's controversial role in the Yemen war. 

Multiple countries, including Germany and Norway, have announced the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi's killing. 

The United Nations' Yemen envoy, Martin Griffiths, is pushing for peace talks between the Houthis and Saudi-backed government by the end of the year. Multiple rounds of UN-brokered negotiations have failed to find a solution to the Yemen conflict. 

The US, which for years provided military training and aerial refueling for the Saudi-led coalition, on Saturday announced it would end its inflight refueling support for the alliance. 

The coalition has been blacklisted by the United Nations for the killing and maiming of children, particularly in air raids on rebel-held territory.

The alliance accuses Iran of smuggling arms to the Houthis through the Hodeida port. Tehran denies the charges. 

The World Health Organisation estimates nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the Yemen war since 2015. But rights groups believe the toll may be five times as high.