Pro-government Yemeni forces plan siege of Hodeida port

Pro-government Yemeni forces plan siege of Hodeida port
Forces loyal to the Yemeni government are preparing to surround Hodeida in a bid to force Houthi rebels in the Red Sea port to surrender.
2 min read
Pro-government Yemeni forces are planning to take over Hodeidah [Getty]

Pro-government forces in Yemen are preparing to surround a key Red Sea port in a bid to force Houthi rebels to surrender it without a fight, military sources said on Wednesday.

Loyalist fighters backed by Saudi and UAE forces are sending reinforcements ahead of a "new operation" to enter Hodeida city and seize its port, a commander from one of the forces said.

At least 60 fighters were killed in the latest clashes and air strikes, according to medical sources.

Hodeida port is the main conduit for humanitarian aid into Yemen, where years of war have left some 22 million people in need of food aid.

Colonel Sadiq Duwaid, spokesman for the "National Resistance" - one of three main forces taking part in the operation - said it was "being bolstered by new forces... that will take part in retaking Hodeida".

"First, we will cut off supply lines, especially between (rebel-held capital) Sanaa and Hodeida, then we will place the Houthis under siege and bring them down, perhaps without a fight," he said.

Clashes broke out east of the port city on Wednesday while the Saudi-led coalition carried out numerous air strikes on rebel positions, Yemeni military sources said.

Seven pro-government fighters were killed and 14 wounded, according to medical sources in Hodeida province, while at least 53 rebels also died.

Hodeida lies 230 kilometres from Sanaa, which the Houthis seized in a blooded coup 2014.

This prompted a Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen the following year, aimed at propping up the internationally-recognised government of exiled President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The coalition accuses the rebels of using Hodeida as a launchpad for attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and for smuggling in rockets.

Humanitarian crisis

Nearly 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led alliance launched its intervention in Yemen in March 2015.

More than 2,200 others have died from cholera and millions are on the verge of famine in what the United Nations says is the world's gravest humanitarian crisis.

The UN warned Tuesday that any operation aimed at seizing Hodeida would disrupt the entry of aid shipments to Yemen, 70 percent of which flow through the rebel-held port.

"We are extremely concerned about the situation around Hodeidah," said spokesman Stephane Dujarric, adding that the UN had taken precautions in case of "further escalation".