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.


Russian-backed air strikes hit Daesh in southern Syria — sources

Updated 30 min 20 sec ago
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Russian-backed air strikes hit Daesh in southern Syria — sources

  • Daesh-affiliated forces entrenched in the Yarmouk Basin
  • The agricultural area has become the main battleground in the sensitive border region

AMMAN: Russian and Syrian jets stepped up their bombing of a Daesh bastion along the Jordan-Israel border in southwestern Syria, as the militants pushed into areas abandoned by other rebel groups, diplomatic and opposition sources said.
Daesh-affiliated forces entrenched in the Yarmouk Basin, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan, also repelled a ground attack by the Syrian army and its allies, the sources added.
The agricultural area has become the main battleground in the sensitive border region after a major Russian-backed Syrian army offensive routed other rebel groups who were once backed by Washington, Jordan and Gulf states.
An intelligence source told Reuters 1,000-1,500 Daesh fighters had been holding their ground despite the 10-day-old bombing campaign that he said had hit villages and caused “untold number” of civilian casualties
A former resident in touch with relatives said thousands of civilians whose villages have been bombed have fled to the safety of areas either held by the army or rebels.
Another source familiar with the situation said Daesh had actually been able to expand its territory over the last 20 hours by seizing at least 18 villages abandoned by other rebels under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Daesh was taking advantage of the collapse of its ideological FSA rivals which it views as apostates, the source said.
The United States once armed the southern FSA rebels, but told them at the start of the Russian-Syrian offensive not to expect its intervention. While cutting other aid to the rebels, Washington had continued to provide those fighting Islamic State with weapons, the source added.
The Syrian army said its aerial strikes and shelling of militants in the Yarmouk Basin — the only territorial pocket held by the hard-line Sunni fundamentalists in the country’s southwest — had killed “tens of terrorists” in a campaign whose goal it said was to crush militants.
The army and its allies have been pushing to expand their foothold near the Golan frontier by negotiating surrender deals with rebel groups and allowing them to move to opposition-held areas in northern Syria.