Dubai- Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused Yemen’s Al Houthi rebels of hostage-taking, torture and other serious abuses against people in their custody.

The New York-based watchdog said it had documented 16 cases of illegal imprisonment by the Iran-backed insurgents, “in large part to extort money from relatives or to exchange them for people held by opposing forces”.

“Al Houthi officials have treated detainees brutally, often amounting to torture,” HRW said, adding that former detainees described being beaten with iron rods, wooden sticks and assault rifles.

Prisoners were shackled to walls, caned and threatened with rape, it said, noting that hostage-taking “is a serious violation of the laws of war and a war crime”.

“The Al Houthis have added profiteering to their long list of abuses and offences against the people under their control in Yemen,” said HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.

“Rather than treat detainees humanely, some Al Houthi officials are exploiting their power to turn a profit through detention, torture and murder.”

Meanwhile, commenting on the ongoing battle for the key port city of Hodeida, Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, tweeted: “Liberating Hodeida is one of the most important means for a solution in Yemen. Changing the reality on the ground is imperative, particularly in light of Al Houthis undermining the political process in Geneva. This is a fact that we keep reiterating because the humanitarian dimension of the crisis is linked to addressing the political aspect.”

The Yemeni army has said it has brought a special elite force to the outskirts of Hodeida as part of an impeding operation to storm city and tackle Al Houthi militiamen positioned on rooftops of buildings inside the city, army spokesman Brig Abdou Mejali said.

“This force is trained in the most sophisticated combat operations and is tasked with flushing the militias from the inner parts of the city, clashing with snipers. It is highly capable of engaging in combat acts inside districts and on streets,” he told Saudi newspaper Asharq Al Awsat in remarks published Tuesday.

The Al Houthis seized the capital Sana’a in 2014, forcing the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee south.

Nearly 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the war began in 2015.

Meanwhile, a hospital funded by the UAE has opened in the Red Sea coast of Yemen.

The opening of Al Durayhimi Hospital, which will provide healthcare services to thousands of Yemeni families, is part of the development and service projects of the Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) to support the health sector in the newly liberated areas after the Al Houthi militias destroyed hospitals and health centres and turned some into military hideouts.

The opening ceremony was attended by Saeed Al Kaabi, UAE Humanitarian Operations Director for Yemen, along with a number of Emirati and Yemeni officials.

Al Kaabi said that the UAE is supporting the health sector in Yemen in order to provide appropriate treatment services especially for children, women and the elderly.