Saudi-led coalition storms Yemen's Hudaida airport compound

Saturday, 23 Jun, 2018

Emirati-backed Yemeni government forces seized Hodeida airport from Huthi rebels on Wednesday, the coalition said, in a major step towards retaking the key Red Sea port city.

A resident said the forces stormed the airport after fierce battles broke out early in the morning between coalition forces and Iran-aligned Houthi fighters who hold the main port city of Hodeidah.

While the overall war in the Arab world's poorest country has been led by Saudi Arabia, the ongoing battle for the Red Sea port city of Hodeida has fallen squarely on the shoulders of the UAE, a US -allied federation of seven sheikhdoms.

The United Arab Emirates will reportedly make available eight ships, seven aircraft and another 100 local Yemeni trucks, according to the Straits Times, to issue 380,000 baskets of food comprising wheat, rice and flour.

However, they say land mines and Houthi snipers are hindering efforts to get the airport under government control.

The UAE has said that an operation can be carried out quickly and that the coalition will keep the port open.

The UN's special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, was in the country from Saturday to Tuesday seeking an agreement with the Houthis to avoid an all-out assault on the city. He declined to offer the nationalities nor the numbers of troops now fighting in the Saudi-led coalition around Hodeida, only saying it had "numerical superiority" over the Houthis. The driver was digging trenches for Houthi fighters, witnesses said.

"The first challenge facing us is the fragile humanitarian situation because of the importance of Hodeida", Gargash said. There was no immediate comment from the Houthis.

Around 22 million people are in need of aid, with 8.4 million of them on the brink of starvation, according to the UN.

Also on Tuesday, the Saudi-led coalition bombed a bus carrying civilians, killing six people on the outskirts of Hodeida, said a senior Houthi-linked health official, Yahia Sharif Eddin.

In its daily report, the United Nations agency said fighting has engulfed several districts outside of Hodeida, prompting relief agencies to relocate stocks away from the battles, which has made some aid warehouses inaccessible.

Riyadh accuses its regional rival Tehran of supplying the Houthis with ballistic missiles, a charge Iran denies.

On the military operations on the border strip adjacent to the southern border of Saudi Arabia, Maliki pointed out that the coalition forces secured many sites and large areas on this border, and completely cleared them of the failed attempts by the Houthis to infiltrate the borders of Saudi Arabia.

The coalition has helped pro-government forces to regain control of the south and much of the Red Sea coast but the rebels still control Sanaa and most of the north.