Saudi-led coalition reaches outskirts of Yemen’s Hodeidah airport

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The “Golden Victory” operation began after the passing of a deadline set by the United Arab Emirates for the Houthis (AFP)
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Coalition warplanes and warships carried out strikes on Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by Yemeni troops. (AFP)
Updated 15 June 2018

Saudi-led coalition reaches outskirts of Yemen’s Hodeidah airport

  • Hodeidah is the lifeline for the majority of Yemen's population, who live in Houthi territory
  • Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons

ADEN: Troops backed by the Saudi-led coalition reached the outskirts of Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah’s airport on Wednesday.
The coalition launched an assault on Hodeidah earlier, in the biggest battle of the three-year war between the alliance of Arab states and the Iran-aligned Houthis.
Coalition warplanes and warships were carrying out strikes on Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by Yemeni troops massed south of the Red Sea port, the internationally recognized Yemeni government said in a statement.
The “Golden Victory” operation began after the passing of a deadline set by the United Arab Emirates for the Houthis, who hold the capital Sanaa, to quit the sole port under their control.
Hodeidah is the lifeline for the majority of Yemen’s population, who live in Houthi territory.
Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, who has threatened attacks on oil tankers along the strategic Red Sea shipping lane, warned the Western-backed alliance not to attack the port and said on Twitter his forces had targeted a coalition barge.
Houthi-run Al Masirah TV said two missiles struck the barge, but there was no immediate confirmation from the coalition.
The United Nations had been trying to get the parties to reach a deal that would avert an attack on Hodeidah, which it fears would further impede Yemenis’ access to food, fuel and medicine, exacerbating the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis in the impoverished Arab state.
It estimates that 600,000 people live in the area, and in a worst-case scenario, a battle could cost up to 250,000 lives, as well as cutting off aid and other supplies to millions of people facing starvation and disease.
The assault on Hodeidah is the first time the Saudi-led Arab coalition Western-backed coalition have attempted to capture such a well-defended major city, with the aim of boxing in the Iran backed Houthis in Sanaa and cutting their supply lines to force them to the negotiating table.
Turning point
The alliance intervened in Yemen to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and thwart what Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see as the expansionist aims of their Shiite foe, Iran.
“The liberation of Hodeidah port is a turning point in our struggle to recapture Yemen from the militias that hijacked it to serve foreign agendas,” the Yemeni government said in a statement carried by state-run media.
“The liberation of the port is the start of the fall of the Houthi militia and will secure marine shipping in Bab Al-Mandab strait and cut off the hands of Iran, which has long drowned Yemen in weapons that shed precious Yemeni blood.”
The Houthis deny they are Iranian pawns and say their revolt aims to target corruption and defend Yemen from invaders.
Yemen lies beside the southern mouth of the Red Sea, one of the most important trade routes in the world for oil tankers, which navigate near Yemen’s shores while heading from the Middle East through the Suez Canal to Europe.
Reactions to the ‘Golden Victory’ operation to re-take Hodeidah have been muted, apart from the UN. Lise Grande, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, speaking by telephone from the capital Sanaa, said that her office was drawing up options to ensure aid delivery to millions of Yemenis “in case of a possible siege of Hodeidah,” including a humanitarian airlift.
“We are distributing food, hygiene, nutritional supplies and shelter materials. We have a ship offloading food even as shelling and bombing is happening,” Grande said. “The UN is already taking steps in case of a possible siege including airlift capability.”
Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has called Wednesday for a speedy liberation of Hodeidah to spare its people from catastrophe. Hadi added that the Yemeni government offered numerous concessions trying to persuade the Houthi militia to withdraw from Hodeidah to prevent a military show down there, but the militia refused.
Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, said on his Twitter account that “operations to liberate the city of Hodeidah are a continuation of the support delivered by the Saudi-led Arab coalition to the Yemeni people, and a way to support their freedom against the militia supported by Iran bent on sowing chaos and destruction in the country.
Yemeni forces on Wednesday got closer to Hodeidah after taking control of the suburb of Nekheila south of the town and the port of Hodeidah.
The Saudi ambassador to Washington added in a separate tweet that the Saudi-led coalition’s operations to re-take Hodeidah are important in the light of the increased threat the militias controlling the port have been posing for maritime security in the Red Sea.
Reem Al-Hashimy, the UAE minister of state for international cooperation, has said if the port is wrested from the Houthis, the coalition could ease controls aimed at denying the group arms and ease the flow of goods and aid into Yemen, where millions face starvation and disease.
Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities — accusations denied by the group and Iran.


Pressure piles up on Turkey ahead of EU leaders’ meeting

Updated 37 min 41 sec ago

Pressure piles up on Turkey ahead of EU leaders’ meeting

  • A European Parliament resolution called for sanctions against Turkey unless it showed “sincere cooperation and concrete progress” in defusing tensions with Greece and Cyprus
  • Turkey criticized the resolution, saying it was biased, and insisted on the need for completely demilitarizing Greek islands in the zone.

ANKARA: European pressure is piling up on Turkey ahead of a meeting next week about the country’s activities in the eastern Mediterranean, with the European Parliament urging the immediate end to “illegal exploration and drilling” in the region.

European Union leaders will meet in Brussels on Sept. 24 and 25 to discuss the single market, industrial policy and digital transformation, as well as external relations, particularly with Turkey and China. 

The situation in the eastern Mediterranean and relations with Turkey were raised by some member states during an EU leaders’ video conference of Aug. 19. Leaders expressed their concern about the growing tensions and stressed the urgent need to de-escalate. 

A European Parliament resolution on Thursday called for sanctions against Turkey unless it showed “sincere cooperation and concrete progress” in defusing tensions with EU members Greece and Cyprus.

Parliamentarians also want it to “immediately end any further illegal exploration and drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, by refraining from violating Greek airspace and Greek and Cypriot territorial waters and by distancing itself from nationalistic warmongering rhetoric.”

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But Turkey criticized the resolution, saying it was biased, and insisted on the need for completely demilitarizing Greek islands in the zone.

Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Turkey and now analyst at Carnegie Europe, said the resolution reflected the views of a democratically elected parliament from across the bloc.

“This is not ‘country X against country Y,’ it is the aggregated view of the European Parliament,” he told Arab News.

Germany is pushing for mediation efforts, while France is campaigning for punitive measures to stay united with Cyprus and Greece.

Following talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides in Nicosia, French Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune said the EU should consider employing sanctions, among other available tools, if Turkey continued to “endanger the security and sovereignty of a member state.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that nothing could justify Turkey’s coercion in the eastern Mediterranean in a dispute over energy resources.

“Turkey is and will always be an important neighbor,” she said, a day after Turkey said the operations of its drilling vessel Oruc Reis were extended until Oct. 12. “But while we are close together on the map, the distance between us appears to be growing.”

Fiona Mullen, director of the Nicosia-based research consultancy Sapienta Economics, said that the European Parliament was less important for the east Mediterranean issue than the European Council heads of government.

“But in the European Council it looks as though momentum is building for serious sanctions,” she told Arab News. “I think this is why we saw the removal of the Oruc Reis vessel for maintenance. Turkey cannot afford big sanctions when the lira in such a vulnerable state.”

If backstage diplomacy was successful, she said, the removal of vessels around Cyprus would likely be a carrot for Turkey in terms of the customs union. “It is in everyone’s interests to find a win-win result out of this,” she added.

Pierini anticipated that three elements would stand out in the upcoming European Council debate: EU solidarity with Cyprus and Greece; availability for dialogue but not under threat; and ongoing work on possible graduated sanctions should the need arise.

The parliamentary resolution included the possibility of further restrictive measures to be “sectoral and targeted.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a phone call with European Council head Charles Michel on Thursday and urged Brussels to adopt an “impartial stance” toward Turkey.

The US is “deeply concerned” about Turkey’s moves in the region, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Ankara told Washington to stay neutral on the row.