Cairo: Government forces, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, on Tuesday tightened their control on an airport in the coastal city of Hodeida in western Yemen, an army commander said.
The Arab Coalition launched last week a massive offensive aimed at liberating Hodeida from Iran-aligned Al Houthi militants, who have been in control of the Red Sea city since late 2014.
“The joint forces, with support from the Coalition, have imposed their complete control on the Hodeida airport,” said commander of the Western Coast front Abu Zara Al Muharmi in media remarks.
He added that the Coalition-supported forces have stormed the airport after fierce clashes with Al Houthis. “The remaining pockets of Al Houthis are being hunted inside the airport,” he added.
The Al Houthis were deliberately targeting civilians and residential areas in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Coalition forces said adding that the Al Houthis have broken international norms of protecting civilians in times of war.
The militants escaped en masse from the airport, leaving their injured behind, Dubai-based television channel Al Arabiya reported.
Local residents, meanwhile, reported fighting inside the airport, according to pro-government news portal Adan Al Ghad. A powerful explosion could also be heard in the vicinity of the airport.
Columns of smoke were seen rising from the airport as Coalition aircraft flew overhead.
Al Houthis have planted mines in large parts of the sprawling airport, located some 10 kilometres from the vital Hodeida harbour. Military experts were conducting a demining operation in the airport, according to Al Arabiya.
The takeover of the airport clears the way for the government forces to push towards the harbour and the city’s centre.
The Coalition has ramped up its attacks on Al Houthis after the militants this week wrecked peace efforts by UN envoy Martin Griffiths who met them in the capital Sana’a over the weekend.
The militants, who also control Sana’a, refused proposed safe withdrawal from Hodeida and its harbour in order to end the Coalition campaign on the city and revive a long-stalled peace process.
Hodeida, a city of around 600,000 people, is strategically important because its harbour is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, as most of the commercial imports and relief supplies enter through it to the country.
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.
Al Houthis have been in control of Hodeida and Sana’a since their late 2014 coup against the internationally recognised government.