French special forces are present on the ground in Yemen supporting the ongoing Saudi-led military operation on the Red Sea port city of Hudaydah, Le Figaro newspaper has reported.
The Saturday report cited two military sources but provided no further details as Saudi Arabia claimed that forces under its command had entered the airport in Hudaydah.
France, along with the United States and Britain, backs Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict and provides weapons to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The French Defense Ministry said on Friday that France was studying the possibility of carrying out a mine-sweeping operation to provide access to Hudaydah once Saudi Arabia and the UAE had wrapped up their military operations.
The ministry stressed that France at this stage had no military operations in the Hudaydah region and was not part of the Saudi offensive.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam, however, said British and French warships are on standby on Yemen’s western coast to launch missile and aerial attacks.
Abdulsalam told Arabic-language al-Masirah television network that the Hudaydah assault is an American-British operation as the aggressor states – Saudi Arabia and the UAE – are not capable of launching such a campaign.
Abdulsalam also hailed counter-attacks by the Houthis against the Western-sponsored aggressors.
“The enemies, who are not committed to moral values, have failed to achieve their objectives in Yemen’s western coastline and thus resorted to psychological warfare,” he added.
The assault was launched on Wednesday despite UN warnings that it would compound the impoverished nation’s humanitarian crisis.
More than 70 percent of Yemeni imports pass through Hudaydah’s docks and the fighting has raised UN fears of humanitarian catastrophe in a country already teetering on the brink of famine.
The UN envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths arrived in the capital Sana’a on Saturday for talks on Hudaydah.
He was reportedly expected to propose to Houthi leaders that they cede control of the Red Sea port to a UN-supervised committee to avoid further fighting.
The Houthi spokesman said Griffiths had so far done nothing to resolve the Yemen crisis despite his numerous visits to Sana’a and talks with Yemeni officials.
The UN envoy’s measures are only meant to cover up the continuation of the Saudi-led war on Yemen, Abdulsalam noted, stressing that if Griffiths follows his predecessor’s lead, he would fail to settle the conflict.
The Houthis and allied armed forces say they have dealt a heavy blow to the aggressors, killing Emirati soldiers and targeting a UAE warship with a missile off the coast of the Yemeni port in a counter-attack.
Reinforcements to join Hudaydah attack
On Friday, UAE military sources told the BBC that a major force of Yemeni, Emirati and Sudanese soldiers is on standby in Eritrea to join a final push to capture Hudaydah.
The sources also said that they had been deploying a deception plan luring the Houthis into believing they were being attacked from the sea to the north of Hudaydah when in fact the Saudi-led ground troops were advancing up from the south.
On Saturday, the media office of the Saudi-backed Yemeni forces, loyal to ex-president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, said on Twitter that they had entered the Hudaydah airport.
However, a pro-Hadi source and local residents said the main building of the airport had just been encircled but not seized.
“We need some time to make sure there are no gunmen, mines or explosive in the building,” the source said.
The Houthis have not commented on the news.
Locals said fighting in the airport area has led to the closure of the northern entrance of Hudaydah, which leads to Sana’a, and made it more difficult to transport goods from the port.