Saudi-led forces claim to have entered the main compound of the airport in the western Yemeni city of Hudaydah as they press ahead with a military offensive to capture the flashpoint port city in defiance of international warnings.
Sources close to the former Yemeni president said the troops stormed the airport on Tuesday following fierce battles with fighters of Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement, which has been both running state affairs and defending the country in the face of the deadly Saudi-led military campaign.
The UAE state news agency WAM tweeted later in the day that militants, backed by the Emirati military, have entered the airport.
“This is the first time we hear the clashes so clearly. We can hear the sound of artillery and machinegun fire,” a resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, adding that warplanes had pounded the airport on Tuesday morning.
Mohammad al-Bukhaiti, a top figure in the Houthi movement’s Supreme Political Council, however, said its fighters had repelled the Emirati-backed attempt to seize the airport, and had inflicted heavy losses on the aggressors.
It said clashes are underway south of the airport with the UAE-led militants, who are backed by the coalition’s military aircraft.
The Saudi-led coalition earlier claimed that its forces had taken control of the airport. Ansarullah denied those allegations, saying the aggressors were on the retreat on all fronts.
Saudi Arabia has been conducting airstrikes on the airport to support forces attempting to seize it. Hudaydah serves as a lifeline to millions of Yemenis.
Ground troops including Emiratis, Sudanese and Yemenis have surrounded the main airport compound.
Saudi Arabia’s Apache attack helicopters conducted aerial attacks on schools and homes in the Manzar neighborhood abutting the airport compound in Hudaydah Monday, according to residents.
The Saudi-led military push to seize Hudaydah, which began last week, has been met with stiff resistance by the Houthi movement and its allied forces.
On Sunday night, Deputy Chief of Staff of the UAE Armed Forces Lt. General Isa Saif Bin Abalan al-Mazrouei was reportedly killed in clashes with Yemeni forces.
Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam news network quoted Deputy Governor-General of Hudaydah Province Ali Qashar as saying early on Tuesday that al-Mazrouei as well as 43 Saudi-backed mercenaries were killed in the western coast of Yemen.
The recent casualties bring the death toll among the Saudi-led coalition forces to 253.
The assault against the densely-populated city and the war-torn country’s most vital port was launched despite numerous warnings by the international community and prominent aid groups.
More than 70 percent of Yemeni imports pass through Hudaydah’s docks and the fighting has raised fears of a humanitarian catastrophe in a country already teetering on the brink of famine.
The UN has said the offensive could result in as many as 250,000 deaths.
As the assault by the Saudi-led coalition threatens to trigger a humanitarian disaster in Hudaydah, the UN envoy for Yemen expressed hope for the re-launch of peace talks next month to help end the Yemeni conflict, according to diplomats.
Speaking by video conference from the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, Martin Griffiths briefed the Security Council behind closed doors on his framework for peace talks.
Griffiths told the council that a first round of preliminary talks could take place next month to restart negotiations on a political transition, two diplomats in the chamber said.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky said council members renewed their call for Hudaydah to remain open.
“We hope that nothing terrible happens in Hudaydah,” said Polyansky, whose country holds the council presidency this month.
Saudi Arabia and its allies launched the war on Yemen in March 2015 to reinstall Yemen’s former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who had resigned months earlier and fled to Riyadh.
Yemeni Health Minister Taha al-Mutawakel said last week that the Saudi-led military campaign has so far killed over 11,000 people and injured more than 24,000 more.
The war and an accompanying blockade have caused famine across Yemen. The United Nations says a record 22.2 million people are in need of food aid, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger.
The Saudi aggression has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools, and factories.
Several Western countries, the US and the UK in particular, are accused of being complicit in the aggression as they supply the Riyadh regime with advanced weapons and military equipment as well as logistical and intelligence assistance.