DUBAI: Amnesty International accused the Houthi militia on Thursday of “deliberate militarization of hospitals” in the battleground city of Hodeidah and called on warring parties to protect civilians.
The human rights group’s condemnation came as Yemeni pro-government forces advanced further into the city and closer to the docks country’s most important port.
Amnesty said the Iran-backed Houthis recently stationed fighters on the roof of a hospital in the May 22 district of the Red Sea port city, calling the action a “stomach-churning development.”
It said the move risked “devastating consequences” for the hospital’s staff and patients.
Very worrying update as battle for #Hodeidah looms in #Yemen:— AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) November 8, 2018
Huthis storm a hospital & place gunmen on roof.
Saudi/Emirati coalition air strikes kill scores of civilians.
⚖️ Both sides risk war crimes by not protecting civilians. https://t.co/YJ16btK2RA
“The presence of Houthi fighters on the hospital’s roof violates international humanitarian law,” Samah Hadid, Amnesty’s Middle East campaigns director, told AFP.
A medical source told AFP on Wednesday the militia had forced medical staff out of the May 22 Hospital - one of Hodeidah’s main medical facilities - and posted snipers on the roof.
Pro-government forces on Thursday pressed closer to the heart of Hodeidah, whose port serves as the entry point for nearly 80 per cent of commercial imports and nearly all UN-supervised humanitarian aid.
After a week of intense battles on the city’s outskirts, the troops reached residential neighbourhoods, using bulldozers to remove concrete road blocks installed by the Houthis, AFP reported.
Flashing victory signs, troops of the United Arab Emirates-trained Giants Brigade armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades rolled down the city's streets in pickup trucks bearing their brigade logo spray-painted in red.
Columns headed for the port advanced two kilometres along the main road from the interior to the east and three kilometres along the coast road from the south, military sources told AFP.
“Either the rebels surrender the city peacefully or we take it by force, but we will take it either way,” commander Moammar Al-Saidy said.
Houthi chief Abdulmalek Al-Houthi vowed late on Wednesday that his fighters would never surrender despite being seriously outnumbered.
Coalition warplanes bombed Houthi positions as the ground forces advanced.
At least 47 Houthi fighters were killed, hospital sources in rebel-held areas said. Medics at hospitals in government-held territory said 11 soldiers were killed.
The deaths bring the overall toll from seven days of fighting to 250 combatants killed –197 militants and 53 pro-government troops.
Aid groups have appealed to both the rebels and the coalition to allow civilians to escape the city of some 600,000 people.
The Houthis have controlled Hodeidah since 2014 when they overran the capital Sanaa and then swept through much of the rest of the country triggering Saudi-led military intervention the following year.
Government forces backed by significant numbers of United Arab Emirates ground troops launched an offensive to retake the city in June.
UN agencies say some 14 million people are at risk of famine in Yemen, which they have described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
On Thursday, the World Food Programme said it planned to double its food assistance programme for Yemen, aiming to reach up to 14 million people "to avert mass starvation"
Aid groups have appealed to both the rebels and the coalition to provide safe passage for fleeing civilians and halt fighting around hospitals.
UN special envoy Martin Griffiths on Wednesday said he aimed to hold peace talks by the end of the year, after last week saying he would try to bring them together by the end of the month.