Cairo: The recapture of Yemen’s port city of Hodeida from Iran-allied Al Houthis is crucial for safe maritime navigation in the region, an official in a Saudi-led coalition fighting the militants said on Friday.
“The liberation of Hodeida will secure navigation in the international waterways,” Col. Turki Al Maliki said in a televised press conference in the Belgian capital Brussels.
“It will stop the danger of attacking international ships.”
Al Houthis have been in control of Hodeida in western Yemen since their late 2014 coup against the internationally-recognized government.
The militants have repeatedly threatened to attack oil tankers using Bab Al Mandab, a major waterway between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, linking the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal.
On Wednesday, the Arab Coalition confirmed seizing full control of the Hodeida airport, dealing a major blow to Al Houthis. The facility lies around 10 kilometres from the city’s vital harbour, which is the government forces’ next target.
The Coalition accuses Al Houthis of taking advantage of their control of Hodeida port to obtain weapons from their Iranian patrons as well as confiscate aid intended for Yemenis in order to sustain their war efforts.
Col. Al Turki on Friday said that retaking the harbour will come to benefit Yemenis.
“The liberation of the Hodeida port will cut off the vital artery for Al Houthis’ armament and guarantee availability of financial resources to the legitimate government,” he added.
Hodeida is strategically important because its harbour is considered a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, as most of the commercial imports and relief supplies enter through it to the country.
The Saudi-led alliance launched last week a massive offensive dubbed “Golden Victory” aimed at driving Al Houthis out of the Red Sea city of around 600,000 people.
“The liberation of Hodeida will reflect positively on all Yemenis and stop the illegal tax levies [by Al Houthis],” Al Turki said.
He accused the militants of holding themselves up inside inhabitants’ houses and taking them as human shields in the city.
After their takeover of the city’s airport, the government forces, supported by the Arab Coalition, are bracing up for a major battle to regain the Hodeida harbour.
A Yemeni army official said in remarks published on Friday that a blitz attack is being considered to clear Hodeida of Al Houthis.
“The army and resistance forces are fully prepared to liberate Hodeida,” Col. Adnan Al Matri, the head of the Western Coast Operations Room, told pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.
He added that concerns for civilians’ safety slow down the militants’ expulsion from the city.
“Al Houthis militias deliberately use civilians as human shields and residential areas as military positions,” he added. “They have started digging tunnels and trenches in populous areas as well as positioning snipers at residential hilltops.”
In 2015, Saudi Arabia and allies, mainly the United Arab Emirates, unleashed a military campaign in Yemen after Al Houthis advanced on the southern city of Aden, the temporary seat of the internationally recognized government, after the militants overran the capital Sana’a months earlier.