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.


Sudan protests rumble on as Bashir remains defiant

Updated 40 min 40 sec ago
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Sudan protests rumble on as Bashir remains defiant

  • Rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff
  • Bashir has remained steadfast in rejecting calls for him to resign

KHARTOUM: One month after protests erupted across Sudan against rising bread prices, anti-government demonstrations have turned into daily rallies against a defiant President Omar al-Bashir who has rejected calls to resign.
Protest organisers have called for a march on the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum on Thursday, along with simultaneous demonstrations in several other cities.
Authorities say at least 24 people have died since the protests first broke out on December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.
Rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff.
The protests have escalated into nationwide anti-government demonstrations that experts say pose the biggest challenge to Bashir since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.
"I have been demonstrating and will continue to demonstrate until this regime is overthrown," vowed Adel Ibrahim, 28, who has participated in demonstrations in Khartoum.
"We are protesting to save our future and the future of our homeland."
Protests initially broke out in the eastern town of Atbara, which has a history of anti-government sentiment, and within days spread to other provinces and then to Khartoum.
Cities like Port Sudan, Gadaref, Kassala and agricultural regions that previously backed Bashir saw protests calling for him to step down, while the western region of Darfur too witnessed rallies against the 75-year-old veteran leader.
Using social media networks to mobilise crowds, most protesters have marched chanting "Peace, freedom, justice", while some have even adopted the 2011 Arab Spring slogan -- "the people want the fall of the regime".
Crowds of demonstrators, whistling and clapping, have braved volleys of tear gas whenever they have taken to the streets, witnesses said.
"There's a momentum now and people are coming out daily," said prominent Sudanese columnist Faisal Mohamed Salih.
"Even the authorities are astonished."
Although the unrest was triggered by the cut in a vital bread subsidy, Sudan has faced a mounting economic crisis in the past year, including an acute shortage of foreign currency.
Repeated shortages of food and fuel have been reported across cities, including in Khartoum, while the cost of food and medicine has more than doubled.
Officials have blamed Washington for Sudan's economic woes.
The US imposed a trade embargo on Khartoum in 1997 that was lifted only in October 2017. It restricted Sudan from conducting international business and financial transactions.
But critics of Bashir say his government's mismanagement of key sectors and its huge spending on fighting ethnic minority rebellions in Darfur and in areas near the South Sudan border has been stoking economic trouble for years.
"If this regime continues like this, we will soon lose our country, which is why we have to fight," said Ibrahim, who has been looking for a job for years.
An umbrella group of unions of doctors, teachers and engineers calling itself the Sudanese Professionals' Association has spearheaded the campaign, calling this week the "Week of Uprising".
"Protesters don't even know the organisers by names, but they still trust them," said Salih.
Sudanese authorities led by the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have cracked down on protesters, drawing international criticism.
More than 1,000 people, including protesters, activists, opposition leaders and journalists have been arrested so far, rights groups say.
Bashir has remained steadfast in rejecting calls for him to resign.
"Demonstrations will not change the government," he told a rally in Darfur on Monday as supporters chanted "Stay, stay".
"There's only one road to power and that is through the ballot box. The Sudanese people will decide in 2020 who will govern them," said Bashir, who is planning to run for the presidency for the third time in elections to be held next year.
Two uprisings in Sudan in 1964 and 1985 saw regimes change within days, but experts say this time protesters have a long road ahead.
"At the moment, Bashir appears to have the majority of the security services on his side," said Willow Berridge, a lecturer at Britain's Newcastle University.
Bashir's ruling National Congress Party has dismissed the demonstrations.
"There are some gatherings, but they are isolated and not big," party spokesman Ibrahim al-Siddiq told AFP.
The International Crisis Group think-tank said Bashir might well weather the unrest.
"But if he does, it will almost certainly be at the cost of further economic decline, greater popular anger, more protests and even tougher crackdowns," it said in a report.
Salih said protesters appeared to be determined.
"But the one who tires first will lose," he said.