Published: Fri, June 15, 2018
Worldwide | By Lisa Hogan

Yemenis flee as Saudi-led coalition pounds Hodeida port

Yemenis flee as Saudi-led coalition pounds Hodeida port

Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes on Al Hudaydah on Wednesday morning while supported by ground forces.

Pro-government troops began the assault on Wednesday despite mounting global fears about the humanitarian fallout, pressing toward Hodeida airport south of the city after receiving a "green light" from the coalition.

Before dawn Wednesday, convoys of vehicles appeared to be heading toward the rebel-held city as heavy gunfire rang out.

"Today I heard warplanes hovering and the sounds of explosions", a 20-year-old woman, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told Al Jazeera.

A street vendor sells vegetables in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, June 14, 2018.

The UAE - the driving force behind the coalition's assault on Hodeida - said four of its troops were killed on the first day of the offensive. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to brief journalists.

TRT World's Editor-at-large Ahmed al-Burai explains what's behind the Hudaida assault. Turki al-Malki, a Saudi military spokesman, said coalition forces were some six kilometers (three miles) from the airfield, in an interview with the Saudi-owned satellite news channel Al Arabiya. "Liberation of the port of Hudaida is a milestone in our struggle to regain Yemen from the militias".

Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi has warned the group will attack oil tankers in the event of an assault on Hodeidah.

November 2017: The coalition imposes a complete blockade on Yemen in response to a missile fired by the Houthis at the Riyadh airport. There was no immediate confirmation from the coalition.

Forces loyal to Yemen's exiled government and irregular fighters led by Emirati troops had neared Hodeida in recent days.

The Gulf-led coalition also struck the main road linking Hodeidah - home to 600,000 people - to the capital Sanaa to block reinforcements, residents and anti-Houthi Yemeni military officials said.

Despite strong U.S. ties with coalition members, particularly the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, the war in Yemen faces strong opposition in the U.S. Congress.

But humanitarian groups and experts have warned that an offensive on Hodeida, through which 80 percent of Yemen's aid comes, could devastate the already war-ravaged country. The International Committee of the Red Cross said last week it had pulled 71 foreign staff out of Yemen.

"During the past three years of fighting in Yemen, all parties to the conflict have disregarded their obligations under worldwide humanitarian law, consistently carrying out unlawful attacks that have killed or injured civilians".

The war has killed more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, and displaced over 3 million others, according to the United Nations agencies.

In a statement responding to the potentially catastrophic attack on Hodeidah, Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, took aim at both the USA and the United Kingdom for providing crucial political and military support for the Saudi-led assault, arguing that such complicity reveals "the true face of their foreign policy". Yemen is heavily dependent on imported food, fuel and medicine that come through Hodeidah port. The Red Sea port of Hodeida is the main entry for food into a country already on the brink of starvation. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015.

Despite the fighting, the United Nations kept up its aid supplies. Grande on Monday said while the United Nations had relocated global staff from the city, numerous local staff had chosen to stay to try to continue United Nations programs.

Jolien Veldwijk, the acting country director for CARE International, called the attack "catastrophic, hopeless and devastating". "That was the situation before, and now it is going to get worse".

In a tweet, the UN's envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, called on both sides to end the fighting and find a negotiated settlement.

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