Yemen war: Saudi-led forces begin assault on Hudaydah
Forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition have launched an offensive against Yemen’s Red Sea port city of Hudaydah in defiance of warnings by the UN and international rights groups against the catastrophic repercussions of such a military action.
On Wednesday morning, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV network announced the beginning of the Hudaydah operation, which the UN has warned could cause up to 250,000 deaths.
The Saudi-led military alliance is providing air cover to the operation.
Meanwhile, Arabic-language al-Masdar News has reported heavy Saudi-led airstrikes on Hudaydah as the UAE-backed troops stormed the Houthi positions just south of the city’s airport.
Houthi media activists have also reported fierce clashes south of the Hudaydah airport and intense air raids over the entire province.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a key member of the Saudi-led coalition waging the war on Yemen, had set a Tuesday deadline for the Yemeni Houthi Ansarullah movement to pull out of Hudaydah. The port city serves as a lifeline for aid delivery to the war-stricken country.
“These are the last and final hours to get unconditional guarantees that the Houthis will leave the port,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told Reuters on Tuesday.
The Saudi-led coalition claims that the Houthi Ansarullah movement is using Hudaydah for weapons delivery, an allegation rejected by the fighters.
The Houthi movement has pledged strong resistance in the face of the assault, which is said to be the largest of its kind since the onset of the war in early 2015.
Shortly after the operation was launched, the Yemeni National Salvation Government’s spokesman, Abdulsalam Jaber, said Yemeni armed forces had targeted a UAE warship off the country’s western coast.
Yemen’s Supreme Revolutionary Committee said the warship was destroyed in the counter-attack, adding that Saudi-led helicopters rushed to save the forces aboard the vessel, which is now burning near Yemen’s coastline.
A second battleship left the site following the incident, it added.
Meanwhile, according to The Wall Street Journal, there are signs that the US military is deepening its role in the assault on Hudaydah, in spite of UN warnings of massive human casualties. Washington, the paper says, is providing its Persian Gulf allies with intelligence on airstrike targets in the port.
It cited American military officials as saying that the US is helping the UAE develop a list of targets meant to be off limits for airstrikes on Hudaydah, with an apparent aim to minimize civilian casualties.
The UN and other aid groups have over the past days withdrawn their staff members from the port city in the wake of UAE threats.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also raised alarm over the impact of the attack on children in Hudaydah and beyond.
“There are 11 million children in need of humanitarian aid in this war-torn country. Choking off this lifeline will have devastating consequences for every one of them,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore said in a statement on Tuesday.
Red Cross renews warning
On Wednesday, the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on all sides to the Yemen conflict to protect civilians, voicing concerns about the humanitarian situation in Hudaydah.
“Under international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict have to do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they need to survive,” Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, told Reuters.
ICRC spokeswoman Marie-Claire Feghali also warned that the assault on Hudaydah was “likely to exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen.”