SANAA, Yemen: Troops in a Saudi-led coalition captured a town south of Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah on Thursday as fierce fighting and airstrikes pounded the area, officials said, on the second day of an offensive to capture the strategic harbor.
A Saudi military spokesman described forces drawing closer to Hodeidah, through which about 70 percent of Yemen’s food enters via the port.
The UAE’s ambassador to UN agencies in Geneva said that the coalition had no choice but to act.
“Should we leave the Houthis smuggling missiles?” Ambassador Obaid Salem Al-Zaabi asked. “This comes from this seaport. We already gave the UN the chance to operate from this seaport, and (the Houthis) refused.”
The UN and Western nations say Iran has supplied the Houthis with weapons, from assault rifles to the ballistic missiles they have fired deep into Saudi Arabia, including at the capital, Riyadh. More than 150 ballistic missiles have been fired into the Kingdom by the Houthis, according to Saudi officials.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said the port remained open Thursday, citing information from the UN.
“People in the governorate have reported heavy airstrikes along coastal areas and roads in districts south of Hodeidah city,” the council said. “No direct attacks have been reported within Hodeidah city itself, despite the overhead presence of fighter jets.”
Meanwhile, soldiers took the town of Nakhila in Yemen’s Ad-Durayhimi district, about 20 km south of Hodeidah International Airport, according to Yemen’s government-run SABA news agency.
Fighters continued to move closer to the airport Thursday. Col. Turki Al-Malki, a Saudi military spokesman, described coalition forces as being about 6 km from the airfield.
The initial battle plan appeared to involve a pincer movement. About 2,000 troops who crossed the Red Sea from an Emirati naval base in the African nation of Eritrea were awaiting orders to move in from the west after Yemeni government forces seize Hodeidah’s port, Yemeni security officials said.
Emirati forces and Yemeni government troops moved in from the south near Hodeidah’s airport, while others sought to cut off Houthi supply lines to the east, the officials said.