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Yemen army will attack Hodeida if peace efforts fail — experts

Military experts say Al Houthis have lost several key bargaining chips

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Hadi’s meeting with UN envoy yesterday
Gulf News

Al Mukalla: The current diplomatic efforts by the UN envoy to Yemen is the last-ditch attempt to convince Iran-backed Al Houthi rebels to leave the western city of Hodeida or face a military operation, military and political experts said.

“If these efforts reached a deadlock and Al Houthi militias did not agree to pull out of Hodeida, we are ready to escalate our military pressure until we recapture it,” Brigadier General Abdo Abdullah Majili, a Yemeni army spokesperson, told Gulf News.

The UN envoy to Yemen, Esmail Ould Shaikh Ahmad, has recently shuttled between regional capitals to garner support for his recent proposals on Hodeida that were rejected by Al Houthi rebels and their ally ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Majili said that the Yemeni army is making major advances along the western coast of the country and Al Houthis are in retreat. “We have completely defused thousands of landmines planted by Al Houthis in Khalid Bin Waleed camp as army troops move eastward,” Majili said, adding that the army is still waiting for a presidential order to accelerate military operations on the Red Sea coasts and this order might not come before the end of the recent push for peace by UN envoy.

Military and political experts say that the Al Houthi rebels have lost many important bargaining chips since government forces, backed by a big air support from the Saudi-led coalition, launched a military operation along the country’s western coast. Government forces have taken full control of major posts on the strategic Bab Al Mandan, Mokha town, and finally Khalid Bin Al Waleed, one of the biggest military posts in Yemen.

In Aden, a top army general ruled out any military operation to recapture Hodeida in the foreseeable future as the international community is determined to defuse tension over the city peacefully. “Hodeida issue is now in the hands of the international community and powerful countries. The outcome of discussions between those countries will decide who will rule Hodeida,” the army general told Gulf News on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief reporters.

Despite Al Houthi-Saleh’s alliance’s endeavour to express the same hardline stand about Hodeida plan, Saleh’s supporters have offered a lenient position behind the closed doors, western envoys said. Late last month, the American ambassador to Yemen, Matthew H. Tueller, said that Saleh’s supporters agreed to UN-brokered initiative on Hodeida.

Saleh’s party swiftly issued a statement denying the US ambassador’s remark and accused him of trying to undermine their alliance with Al Houthi movement. Analysts here in Yemen believe that Saleh and Al Houthi rebels jostle over billions of rials that are collected from Hodeida seaport and ousted president is positioning himself as a good negotiator.

Ali Al Fakih, a political analyst and the editor of Al Masdar newspaper, said that Saleh engaged in secret talks with international community after losing control of revenues from Hodeida seaport. “Saleh knows that Al Houthis are making the most of the seaport. They use the revenues to finance their military activities and smuggle weapons through the seaport,” Al Fakih said.