Saudis Announce Start of Attack on Key Yemen Aid Port

Saudis Announce Start of Attack on Key Yemen Aid Port

Saudis Announce Start of Attack on Key Yemen Aid Port

The assault marks the first time the Arab states have tried to capture such a heavily-defended major city since joining the war three years ago against the Iran-aligned Houthis, who control the capital Sanaa and most of the populated areas. But it could set off a prolonged street-by-street battle that inflicts heavy casualties.

"Families and children could be caught in the crossfire, unable to leave but in grave danger from bombs and bullets if they stay, trapped beyond the reach of humanitarian aid or medical care".

Before the war, more than 70 per cent of Yemen's food and fuel imports came through Hodeida, accounting for more than 40 per cent of the nation's customs income. Around two-thirds of the country's population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.

Shortly after the deadline passed, the coalition launched operation "Golden Victory", an assault that included air, naval and land units, according to the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news network. "We thought it could not get any worse, but unfortunately we were wrong".

The initial battle plan appeared to involve a pincer movement.

A view of cranes, damaged by air strikes, at the container terminal of the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen November 30, 2017.

They say a network of minefields in the rebel-held areas has hindered the advance of government forces.

The United States rejected a request from the UAE for intelligence, mine-sweeping and airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets for the Hodeidah operation, a UAE official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, while noting congressional opposition.

"The @WSJ reports the Trump Administration is supporting the brazen UAE military offensive on Hodeidah in Yemen", Lieu tweeted after the hearing.

The United Arab Emirates confirmed of its four soldiers had been killed and 22 Houthi rebels reportedly also died.

Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, who has threatened attacks on oil tankers, warned the alliance not to attack the port and said on Twitter his forces had struck a coalition barge. A Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict in March 2015.

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

The United Nations and other aid groups already had pulled their global staff from Hodeida ahead of the assault.

As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, the Trump administration has been considering deepening USA military involvement in the Saudi bombardment of Yemen, which has pushed eight million Yemenis to the brink of starvation.

European donor governments warned aid groups in Yemen on Saturday that "a military assault now looks imminent", according to a message seen by Reuters.

"The assault on Hodeidah could have a devastating impact for hundreds of thousands of civilians - not just in the city but throughout Yemen", Amnesty International's Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf said in a statement.

"The latest developments will only lead to further escalation and instability in Yemen", Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem al-Hashimy said if the port was no longer under Houthi control then the coalition could ease controls aimed at denying arms to the group by doing away with inspections at the Saudi port of Jizan.

The Houthi militias have also used the port of Hodeidah as a key entry point of smuggled weapons including Iranian provided ballistic missiles. "We are there and delivering, we are not leaving Hodeidah", UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, said. Already, Yemeni security officials said some were fleeing the fighting.

"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.

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