Yemen government forces set sights on strategic port city | News | DW | 29.05.2018
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Yemen government forces set sights on strategic port city

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition has said the aim is to "cut the vein that the Houthis are benefiting from." But a Houthi leader has called for his followers to join the fight in Hodeida and confront the "breach."

Pro-government forces are closing in on the strategic port city of Hodeida, said a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition late Monday.

"The Yemeni army backed by the coalition is around 20 kilometers [12 miles] outside Hodeida and military operations are ongoing," said coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki during a press conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Hodeida, a port city on the Red Sea, is known as the country's main gateway for humanitarian aid. But Saudi Arabia believes the port is also being used to smuggle in weapons from Iran, an allegation both the Houthis and Tehran have long denied.

"Our goal is to cut the vein that the Houthis are benefiting from," al-Maliki said.

Houthis rally

The Houthis have started to prepare for the battle in the port city, with Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi calling on Shiite forces to defend Hodeida.

In a televised statement, al-Houthi urged his followers and fellow tribesmen to join the fight for Hodeida, saying it was time to confront the "breach."

In 2014, Houthi rebels launched a campaign to capture the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and oust President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who now heads an internationally recognized government in exile in Saudi Arabia.

A year later, Saudi Arabia launched a brutal aerial campaign to push out the Shiite rebels and restore Hadi's government. Since then, more than 10,000 people have been killed and thousands more displaced in what the UN has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

'All civil wars end'

Coalition-backed pro-government forces have made significant gains over the past year. For observers, the question isn't whether they can take the port city.

Read more: Yemen's forgotten war: Locals tell their stories

"It's what they intend to do next. Can they use control of the port to ensure humanitarian supplies can get in unimpeded? Will they use the military victory to press for political talks?" said Gerald Feierstein, a former US ambassador to Yemen and director of the Washington-based Middle East Institute, in a tweet.

"All civil wars end. Whether the ending is sustainable is the right question. Yemen has tried repeatedly to find permanent solutions to its systemic problems but failed. We need to understand why and avoid repeating the errors of the past."

ls/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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