Fighting intensifies outside Yemen’s Hodeidah airport

  • Battle between Yemeni fighters backed by a Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi militias.
  • UAE foreign minister says battle is essential to break stalemate in the war.

SANAA, Yemen: Battlefield commanders say fighting intensified on Friday outside the airport of the vital Yemeni city of Hodeidah, pitting thousands of pro-government Yemeni fighters backed by a Saudi-led coalition of mostly Emirati forces and Iranian-backed Houthi militias.

Ahmed Al-Kawkabani, a Yemeni who leads a force known as the Tohama Brigade, told the Associated Press that his forces are currently positioned in Dawar Al-Hodeidah, Arabic for “Hodeidah roundabout.” Another Yemeni commander, Abu Zarah Al-Mahrami, was quoted by Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV network as saying that pro-government forces are “within meters” of the airport.

The assault began Wednesday to seize Hodiedah’s vital Red Sea port, known as the “mouth of Yemen” because it’s the entry point of most of the country’s imports and UN humanitarian aid.

The Saudi-led coalition accuses the Houthis of using the port to smuggle weapons and missiles from Iran. The rebels have been raining ballistic missiles down on Saudi cities from across the border. The port is also a lucrative source of revenue for the Houthis, who control most of Yemen’s north since 2014.

Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said that the battle over Hodeidah is essential to break a stalemate in the war, which otherwise could drag on for years.

Seizing the port “means that the Houthis will no longer be able to impose their will at the barrel of a gun,” he said in a post on Twitter. “If they keep Hodeidah and its revenues and its strategic location, the war will last a long time and (add to) the suffering of the Yemeni people.”

Hodeidah, home of nearly 700,000 people, is some 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, which is under Houthi control.

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