Saudi-led coalition launches attack on Yemen's Hodeidah
By Mohammed Ghobari and Mohamed Mokhashef
A view of the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen May 10, 2017. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/Files
ADEN (Reuters) - Troops backed by a Saudi-led coalition on Wednesday launched an assault on Yemen's main port city of Hodeidah, in the biggest battle of a three-year war between an alliance of Arab states and the Iran-aligned Houthis.
Coalition warplanes and warships were carrying out strikes on Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by Yemeni troops massed south of the Red Sea port, the internationally recognised Yemeni government in exile said in a statement issued by its media office.
The assault began after the expiry of a deadline set by the United Arab Emirates for the Houthis, who hold the capital Sanaa, to hand over the sole port under their control.
Yemen's biggest port, Hodeidah is the lifeline for the majority of Yemen's population, which lives in Houthi territory.
"The liberation of Hodeidah port is a turning point in our struggle to recapture Yemen from the militias that hijacked it to serve foreign agendas," the exiled government said in a separate statement carried by state-run Yemeni media.
"The liberation of the port is the start of the fall of the Houthi militia and will secure marine shipping in Bab al-Mandab strait and cut off the hands of Iran, which has long drowned Yemen in weapons that shed precious Yemeni blood."
The assault is the first time since the Western-backed coalition of mostly Gulf states joined the war in 2015 that they have attempted to capture such a well-defended major city, with the aim of boxing in the Houthis in Sanaa and cutting their supply lines to force them to the negotiating table.
The alliance intervened in Yemen to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and thwart what Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see as the expansionist aims of their Shi'ite foe, Iran.
The Houthis deny they are Iranian pawns and say their revolt aims to target corruption and defend Yemen from invaders.
The United Nations had been trying in the last few weeks to get the parties to reach a deal that would avert the attack, which it fears would further impede Yemenis' access to food, fuel and medicine, exacerbating the world's most urgent humanitarian crisis in the impoverished Arab state.
The UAE has said coalition forces plan to keep the port operational but warned the Houthis could sabotage infrastrucure and place land and sea mines as they withdrew.
Reem al-Hashimy, the UAE minister of state for international cooperation, has said if the port is wrested from the Houthis, the coalition could ease controls aimed at denying the group arms and ease the flow of goods and aid into Yemen, where millions face starvation and disease.
Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities - accusations denied by the group and Tehran.
(Additional reporting by Hesham Hajali in Cairo; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
Trump tries to defuse immigrant crisis, but policy hit by confusionBy Richard Cowan and Steve Holland FILE PHOTO: Immigrant children walk in single file at the facility near the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas, June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake WASHINGTON/MCALLEN, Texas (Reuters) - President...READ MORE...
Majority of Americans say Trump should agree to interview with Mueller - pollBy Maria Caspani FILE PHOTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in...READ MORE...
North Korea 'total denuclearisation' started; officials see no new moves - TrumpBy David Brunnstrom and James Oliphant FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un listens to U.S. President Donald Trump as they meet in a one-on-one bilateral session at the start of their summit at the Capella...READ MORE...
Melania Trump's jacket mixes message during visit to detained immigrant childrenBy Steve Holland and Jonathan Allen U.S. first lady Melania Trump walks from her to her motorcade wearing a Zara design jacket with the phrase "I Really Don't Care. Do U?" on the back as she returns to Washington from...READ MORE...