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

Houthi rebels are seen during a gathering to mobilize more fighters to the battlefront to fight pro-government forces, in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on June 18, 2018. The UAE, a key player in the coalition battling Houthi rebels in Yemen, warned the insurgents to withdraw unconditionally from the flashpoint port city of Hodeidah, after UN peace efforts fizzled. (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2018
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Arab coalition bombs Houthis around Hodeidah airport, urges them to withdraw

  • Arab coalition aircraft bombards Houthi fighters holed up at the airport of Yemen’s main port Hodeidah
  • UAE forces are spearheading the Hodeidah offensive, now focused on the airport of the Red Sea city

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 offensive on Hodeidah six days ago in order to turn the tables in a long- stalemated war that has compounded instability across the Middle East.
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 Arab offensive 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.
“METHODICAL” OFFENSIVE
“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 for talks. 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.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned on Monday that fresh military action would not resolve Yemen’s crisis.
“The crisis in Yemen should be resolved through political channels...A military approach will fail...Yemen’s stability and security is important for the Middle East,” Rouhani told Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in a phone call.
The Houthis, who rule the most populous areas of Yemen, a chronically unstable nation of 30 million people, deny being puppets of Iran and say their revolt is against corruption and foreign invasion.
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.
STRONG HOUTHI HOLD ON HODEIDAH
But the coalition has not tried to capture such a heavily defended major city since entering the war, and humanitarian groups fear the battle for Hodeidah could drag out.
This would intensify the suffering of civilians who have already endured devastating air strikes, port blockades, hunger and a cholera epidemic.
Yehia Tanani said he and his family left Manzar three days ago and walked for 3 km (1.86 miles), hiding behind walls and under trees to avoid air strikes, before finding shelter at a fish farm.
“They told us that some humanitarian organizations are going to send buses but then they said no buses could come in or out. So we started walking on foot carrying our children, sitting every while for rest while the Apaches hovered above us. We were scared not knowing if we’d be shot or not,” he said.
“Now we’re in this school, no mattresses, no electricity, no water, no bathrooms, nothing. And we have children who need medicine, need food, need anything, but we don’t have anything,” he said, sitting on the floor of an empty classroom of a school being used to house those displaced by the fighting.
Children slept on the floor of empty classrooms while others sat forlornly in the courtyard, where a few items of clothing and blankets were draped over balconies and upturned desks.


France’s FM visits Libya to boost reconciliation deal

Updated 17 min 15 sec ago
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France’s FM visits Libya to boost reconciliation deal

  • Jean-Yves Le Drian met with Fayez Serraj, the prime minister of the Libya's UN-backed government
  • Le Drian said he will meet with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar

CAIRO: France’s foreign minister visited Libya on Monday to encourage holding elections in the north African country later this year as part of a reconciliation agreement reached by the country’s main political rivals in Paris in May.
Jean-Yves Le Drian met with Fayez Serraj, the prime minister of the UN-backed government in the capital, Tripoli.
In a press conference with Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Siala, Le Drian said he will meet with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the commander of Libya’s self-styled national army, and the speaker of the country’s internationally-recognized parliament, Agila Saleh.
He said France will provide $100 million in financial support through the UN to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on December 10.
In May 2018, Serraj and Haftar agreed on a roadmap aiming to restore order in Libya, where lawlessness has fueled Islamic militancy, human trafficking and instability in the wider region. Moving toward parliamentary and presidential elections by the end of 2018 was a key goal of the meeting hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.
The plan however faces obstacles in the north African country, where rival authorities rely on an array of unruly militias.
Libya slid into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed ruler Muammar Qaddafi. France was at the forefront of the NATO airstrikes, carried out along with the United States and others.
Elections were held shortly after Qaddafi’s demise, but failed to bring stability. In the years since, Libya has emerged as a major conduit for African migrants hoping to reach Europe. Libya is split between rival governments in the east and west, each one is backed by militias, tribes and political factions.