Saturday March 23rd, 2019 3:15PM

Saudi-led forces open assault on Yemen port city of Hodeida

By The Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government launched a fierce assault Wednesday on the crucial port city of Hodeida, the biggest offensive of the years-long war in the Arab world's poorest nation for the main entry point for food in a country already teetering on the brink of famine.

The attack on the Red Sea port aimed to drive out Iranian-aligned Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who have held Hodeida since 2015, and break the civil war's long stalemate. But it could set off a prolonged street-by-street battle that inflicts heavy casualties.

The fear is that a protracted fight could force a shutdown of Hodeida's port at a time when a halt in aid risks tipping millions into starvation. Some 70 percent of Yemen's food enters via the port, as well as the bulk of humanitarian aid and fuel supplies. Around two-thirds of the country's population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.

Before dawn Wednesday, convoys of vehicles appeared to be heading toward the rebel-held city as heavy gunfire rang out. The assault, part of an operation dubbed "Golden Victory," began with coalition airstrikes and shelling by naval ships, according to Saudi-owned satellite news channels and state media.

Bombardment was heavy, with one aid official reporting 30 strikes in 30 minutes.

"Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes," said Jolien Veldwijk, the acting country director of the aid group CARE International, which works in Hodeida. "We thought it could not get any worse, but unfortunately we were wrong."

The initial battle plan appeared to involve a pincer movement. Some 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 Hodeida's port, Yemeni security officials said.

Emirati forces with Yemeni government troops moved in from the south near Hodeida's airport, while others sought to cut off Houthi supply lines to the east, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to brief journalists.

Yemen's exiled government "has exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the Houthi militia from the port of Hodeida," it said in a statement. "Liberation of the port of Hodeida is a milestone in our struggle to regain Yemen from the militias."

Four Emirati soldiers were killed in Wednesday's assault, the United Arab Emirates' state-run news agency said, but gave no details of how they died.

The Houthi-run Al Masirah satellite news channel claimed rebel forces hit a Saudi coalition ship near Hodeida with two missiles. The Saudi-led coalition did not immediately acknowledge the incident.

Forces loyal to Yemen's exiled government and fighters led by Emirati troops had neared Hodeida in recent days. The port is some 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Sanaa, Yemen's capital, which has been in Houthi hands since September 2014. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015.

The United Nations and other aid groups already had pulled their international staff from Hodeida ahead of the assault.

The port remained open, however. Several ships arrived in recent days, including oil tankers, and there was no word from the coalition or the U.N. to stop work, according to a senior port official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Aid groups nevertheless warned of disaster.

Robert Mardini, the regional director for the Red Cross, said the push on Hodeida "is likely to exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen."

"The population has already been weakened to extreme levels," he said.

David Miliband, the head of the International Rescue Committee, called the offensive "an attack on the political and diplomatic process to bring peace to Yemen." He said the U.N. Security Council must act to secure a cease-fire before the people of Hodeida "suffer the same fate as those in Aleppo, Mosul or Raqqa."

More than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's civil war, which has displaced 2 million others and helped spawn a cholera epidemic. Saudi-led airstrikes have killed large numbers of civilians and damaged vital infrastructure.

The U.N. 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.

The coalition has blocked most ports, letting supplies into Hodeida in coordination with the U.N. The air campaign and fighting have disrupted other supply lines, causing an economic crisis that makes food too expensive for many to afford.

The U.N. says some 600,000 people live in and around Hodeida, and "as many as 250,000 people may lose everything — even their lives" in the assault. Already, Yemeni security officials said some were fleeing the fighting.

"We hear sounds of explosions. We are concerned about missiles and shells. Some workers have left to their villages for fear of the war," said Mohammed, a Hodeida resident who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals.

The new U.N. envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, tweeted that he was "extremely concerned" by the violence, calling on all parties to exercise restraint. Griffiths' recent appointment as envoy and his push for new negotiations may have encouraged the Saudi-led coalition to strengthen its hand ahead of any peace talks with the Houthis.

Late Wednesday, the Saudi and Emirati governments announced what they called a "multi-faceted plan" to protect civilians in Hodeida, including establishing routes for food, medical supplies and oil shipments from Saudi Arabia's southern city of Jizan and the UAE's capital, Abu Dhabi.

The attack came as Washington was focused on President Donald Trump's summit this week with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The U.S. has been supplying targeting information to the Saudi-led coalition, as well as refueling their warplanes, but was not involved in military operations at the port, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Rankine Galloway said.

"We do not provide any additional support to the Saudi coalition's military operations," he said.


Associated Press writers Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen; Maggie Michael in Aden, Yemen; Samy Magdy in Cairo and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.


Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at . His work can be found at .

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, AP World News, AP Business
© Copyright 2019
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Saudi-led forces open assault on Yemen port city of Hodeida
A Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government has begun an assault on Yemen's port city of Hodeida
4:13PM ( 8 minutes ago )
NASA rover knocked out as gigantic dust storm envelops Mars
Gigantic dust storm on Mars blocks sun, knocks out NASA's rover Opportunity
4:06PM ( 15 minutes ago )
Italy-France tensions flare as migrants head to Spain
Italy escalats quarrel with France over migration, challenges Paris to take in more asylum-seekers and demands apology
4:02PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
St. Paul raccoon set free after scaling 25-story tower
A raccoon that became an internet sensation by climbing a 25-story office tower in downtown St. Paul has been released
3:35PM ( 46 minutes ago )
Pence gives campaign-style speech to Southern Baptists
Vice President Mike Pence gives campaign-style to the closing session of the Southern Baptist Convention ' annual meeting, winning several standing ovations even as his appearance drew criticism from some evangelicals
3:32PM ( 48 minutes ago )
Mayor nixes move to ban media, non-residents from meetings
An Alabama mayor is backing down from an attempt to ban the media and out-of-towners from council meetings
3:16PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
North American trio beats Morocco to host 2026 World Cup
North America will host the 2026 World Cup after FIFA voters opted for the financial and logistical certainty of a United States-led bid over risky Moroccan proposals for the first 48-team tournament
2:17PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Investigation: Sustainable seafood dealer sold fishy tale
An Associated Press investigation finds that a leading sustainable seafood distributor who promised wild-caught, domestic fish traceable back to a dock has been duping chefs across the U.S.
2:16PM ( 2 hours ago )
Ryan says Trump backs compromise immigration plan
House Speaker Paul Ryan is telling Republican lawmakers that President Donald Trump backs compromise immigration legislation that leaders are trying to craft in hopes of ending the party's standoff over the issue
12:34PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online National News
AP Explains: What the Greek-Macedonian name deal is about
For the past 27 years, Greece and Macedonia have been bedeviled by one of the oddest disputes in international diplomacy _ how the small, landlocked country of 2.1 million should be called, at home and abroad
1:16PM ( 3 hours ago )
The Latest: Merkel, allies head for showdown over migration
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is heading for a showdown with her conservative allies in a dispute over whether to turn back some refugees at the border
12:16PM ( 4 hours ago )
Trump's Mideast team to push peace plan in region
The White House says President Donald Trump's Mideast negotiating team will visit the region next week to promote its as-yet unveiled Israeli-Palestinian peace plan and hold talks on deteriorating conditions in the Gaza Strip
11:53AM ( 4 hours ago )
AP World News
Stocks wobble after Fed says interest rates will rise faster
US stocks are mixed after the Federal Reserve raises interest rates for the second time this year and says it expects to increase rates two more times this year
3:31PM ( 50 minutes ago )
The Latest: Fed uncertain on banking for marijuana firms
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell says the U.S. central bank has not resolved how financial institutions should deal with marijuana businesses
3:25PM ( 55 minutes ago )
The Latest: Businesses' trade concerns growing, Powell says
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell says the Fed is hearing growing concerns from business executives about the Trump administration's trade policies, including anecdotal cases where companies have postponed larger purchases or new hires.
3:11PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
Italy-France tensions flare as migrants head to Spain
Italy escalats quarrel with France over migration, challenges Paris to take in more asylum-seekers and demands apology
4:02PM ( 19 minutes ago )
Is this the week Rickie Fowler breaks through in a major?
Rickie Fowler knows he can win major championships; is this the week, at the US Open?
3:59PM ( 21 minutes ago )
Election win puts Democrats close to taking Wisconsin Senate
Wisconsin Democrats' pickup of a legislative seat in Republican hands has them edging closer to relevance in a state dominated by the GOP for nearly a decade
3:54PM ( 27 minutes ago )
Spain's Lopetegui joins long line of strange coach firings
Spain has made a coaching change just two days before the start of the World Cup in a move that will be heavily scrutinized over the coming weeks
3:49PM ( 31 minutes ago )
NASA rover knocked out as gigantic dust storm envelops Mars
Gigantic dust storm on Mars blocks sun, knocks out NASA's rover Opportunity
3:34PM ( 47 minutes ago )