AL-MUKALLA: Houthi artillery shells and landmines have killed 232 civilians including 68 children and 29 women in Yemen’s Red Sea province of Hodeida since Stockholm Agreement, the pro-government Giants Brigades said on Thursday.
In a statement carried by its official website and seen by Arab News, the Giant Brigades said the Iran-backed Houthis escalated military attacks and planting landmines since late 2018, killing 232 and injuring 2311 people in different districts in Hodeida.
The internationally recognized government and Houthis signed the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement in late 2018 that meant to stop a major military offensive by government forces on the strategic city of Hodeida that hosts the biggest and most important city seaport in Yemen. Under the agreement, both sides are obliged to halt hostilities by withdrawing forces outside the city in exchange for Houthis hand over key seaports in the province of Hodeida to neutral Yemeni forces under the supervision of the UN.
On Thursday, the Giant Brigades said Houthis committed 16000 breaches to the agreement by heavily shelling residential areas and government forces gatherings in Durihimi, Hays, Khokha, Al Jah and areas on edges of Hodeida. From December 2018 to December 2019, Houthi incursions and artillery fire had destroyed 446 public and government facilities including farms and houses.
Backed by massive military support from the Saudi-led coalition, thousands of Yemeni troops marched towards Hodeida after seizing control of strategic locations in the provinces of Lahj and Taiz including Bab Al Mandab Strait. The offensive gained momentum when hundreds of troops loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh defected from Houthis after the killing of their leader and began trickling into the west coast battlefield. When the government forces stormed Hodeida airport in late 2018, the UN brokered a deal that was designed to stop the offensive. Government say the agreement was largely breached as Houthis intensified attacks on government forces in 2019, cashing in infighting in Aden between the government and Southern Transitional Council. Formed from the Giant Brigades, Tehama Resistance and the Republic Guard, the Joint Forces have been deployed outside the city of Hodeida and other liberated regions to secure them from Houthi incursions.
Military commanders and experts who read the number of civilian deaths argue the number show that violence has never subsided since the signing of the deal and civilians bore the brunt of Houthi breaches in Hodeida. Speaking to Arab News by telephone from neighboring Taiz province, colonel Abdul Basit Al Baher, government forces spokesperson, said that the number of deaths is huge given the short period and limited areas where deaths occurred. “ The number is very big. It shows that Hodeida is still experiencing a war. In normal truce breaches, a civilian or two are killed in one or two months,” he said, adding that Houthis used the truce that followed the agreement for regrouping and increasing attacks on government forces. “ Neither civilians in Hodeida nor Yemenis in general has ever benefited from the agreement. Houthis have continued digging trenches, planting landmines and shelling residential areas in Hodeida with 160 mm and 130mm mortars,” he said.
On Monday, shells fired by Houthis hit the World Food Programme grain stores at the Red Sea Mills, which is under government forces’ control, forcing the UN body into suspending the milling of grain. The Giant Brigade said in another statement that Houthis fired shells at government forces in Hodeida’s Beit Al Fagih district on Wednesday. Al Baher said Houthis were pushed into signing the agreement after government forces were close in on purging them from Hodeida and only a military action would push them again into putting the agreement into place. “Without driving them into a corner, Houthis would use the agreement for reposition and getting ready for a new round of fighting.”