Yemen's Houthi rebels deny Saudi claims of airport control

Yemen's Houthi rebels deny Saudi claims of airport control
The Saudi-led coalition reported on Saturday they had captured Hodeida airport - a claim quickly denied by Houthi rebels.
3 min read
17 June, 2018
The Houthi rebels have controlled the Hodeida region since 2014 [Getty]
Yemen's Houthi rebels have denied claims that Saudi-led coalition forces seized Hodeida airport on Saturday, as fighting intensifies around the port city.
The internationally-recognised Yemen government claimed its fighters had entirely seized the facility, just outside the city of Hodeida that serves as the starving nation's main gateway for food shipments.
"The armed forces which are supported by the Arab coalition have freed Hodeida International Airport from the Houthi militias and the engineering teams have started to clear the airport and its surroundings from mines and bombs," the military said on its official Twitter account.
Sadek Dawad, spokesman of the Republican Guards force loyal to the Saudi-led coalition, said government forces had battled their way onto the airport's grounds.
Dawad also said the southern gate of Hodeida city was captured by pro-coalition forces.
"The military operations to liberate the city of Hodeida will not be stopped until we secure the city and its strategic port and that won't last too long."
Houthi-linked civil aviation authorities, however, denied that their rivals had taken control of Hodeida's airport.
A statement posted Saturday on the Houthis' official news agency, SABA, quoted Ahmed Taresh, the head of Hodeida airport, saying that airstrikes have completely destroyed the airport.
The Houthi-run al-Masirah satellite news channel aired footage it described as being from near Hodeida.
It showed a burned-out truck, corpses of irregular fighters and a damaged Emirati armoured vehicle.
The Iranian-aligned fighters rifled through a military ledger from the vehicle before chanting the Zaydi-Shia militia's anti-Western slogan.
The UN envoy for Yemen arrived in the rebel-held capital Sanaa on Saturday for emergency talks about the fate of the key aid port of Hodeida.
More than 70 percent of Yemeni imports pass through Hodeida's docks and the fighting has raised UN fears of humanitarian catastrophe in a country already teetering on the brink of famine.
The Yemeni government and its allies launched their offensive on Wednesday. At least 139 combatants have already been killed, according to medical and military sources.
The rebels have controlled the Hodeida region with its population of some 600,000 people since 2014.
Earlier this year, the Saudi-led coalition imposed a near-total blockade on the city's port alleging that it was being used as a conduit for arms smuggling to the rebels by its regional arch rival Iran.
The capture of Hodeida would be the coalition's biggest victory of the war so far and on Thursday rebel leader Abdel Malek al-Houthi called on his forces to put up fierce resistance and turn the region into a quagmire for coalition troops.
On Thursday, the UN Security Council demanded that Hodeida port be kept open to vital food shipments but stopped short of backing a Swedish call for a pause in the Saudi-backed offensive to allow for talks on a rebel withdrawal.
The Yemen war has claimed some 10,000 lives since the coalition intervened in 2015 when President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled into exile when the rebels overran much of the country.
More than 22 million Yemenis are in need of aid, including 8.4 million who are at risk of starvation, according to the UN, which has described the conflict as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.