Arab coalition bombs Houthis at Hodeidah airport, urges them to withdraw


ADEN: Arab coalition aircraft bombarded Houthi fighters holed up at the airport of Yemen’s main port Hodeidah on Monday as a senior alliance official said he hoped UN diplomacy could coax the Iran-aligned movement to cede the city to “save the population”.
There are fears that a prolonged battle for the city, where the Houthis are dug in to protect critical supply lines from the Red Sea to their bastion in the capital Sanaa, could aggravate what is already the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis.
The Western-backed Arab alliance launched an onslaught on Hodeidah six days ago in order to turn the tables in a long- stalemated, proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has compounded instability across the Middle East.
The coalition intervened in Yemen’s war in 2015 after Houthi rebels drove the internationally recognized government into exile. UAE forces are spearheading the Hodeidah offensive, now focused on the airport of the Red Sea city.
On Monday Apache helicopter gunships fired at Houthi snipers and other fighters positioned on the rooftops of schools and homes in the Manzar neighborhood abutting the airport compound, according to local residents.
Houthi forces had blocked roads to the airport, they said.
The Houthis’ al-Masira television reported six coalition air strikes on the Duraihmi district in the vicinity of the port.
The upsurge in fighting has wounded dozens of civilians and prevented aid organizations from reaching parts of Hodeidah.
In Geneva, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein voiced concern the onslaught could cause “enormous civilian casualties and have a disastrous impact on life-saving…aid to millions of people which comes through the port”.
A senior UAE official said the coalition was taking a measured approach to the battle to minimize risks to civilians and was allowing the Houthis an escape route inland to Sanaa.
In addition, 100 trucks of food aid were en route to Hodeidah on the road from coalition-controlled Aden and Mokha to the south, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told a news conference in Dubai.
“We have planned diligently around the humanitarian challenge. Our approach is methodical, gradual, calibrated to squeeze, to make a point, to allow the Houthis to do the right thing, which is basically decide to withdraw unconditionally.”
The Houthis’ days in Hodeidah were numbered, he said, and they needed to “as much as possible save the population”.
He said the coalition was counting on Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen, to “pull a rabbit out of a hat” and secure Houthi agreement to vacate Hodeidah.
Griffiths returned to Sanaa on Saturday. Houthi authorities and the United Nations office in Sanaa said he would stay until Tuesday, after originally saying he would depart on Monday, hinting at possible progress in his discussions.
Gargash estimated the number of Houthi fighters in Hodeidah at between 2,000 to 3,000. “(They are) militia, non-descript, not in uniform, majority work in small groups, snipers, with heavy extensive use of anti-personnel and other mines.”
Gargash declined to reveal the size of coalition forces but said they enjoyed “numerical superiority”.
The Arab alliance has asserted that it can take Hodeidah quickly enough to avoid interrupting aid and that it would focus on capturing the airport and port and avoid street fighting.