An Al Houthi militant inspects a burning armoured vehicle hit in an air strike during clashes between fighters loyal to exiled President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Al Houthis in Hodeida. Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: A Yemeni military operation, unleashed earlier this week with support of an Arab coalition, is “successfully” going ahead to liberate the coastal city of Hodeida from Iran-aligned Al Houthi militants, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said on Friday.

The battle was launched after Al Houthis failed to appear in Switzerland for UN-brokered peace talks, which were scheduled to start on September 6.

“The current Hodeida operations have successfully fulfilled their aims and Al Houthis’ morale is at its lowest,” Gargash tweeted, adding the militia are paying a “dear price” on the battleground for their no-show in Geneva.

“We are still convinced the liberation of Hodeida holds the key to the solution in Yemen,” he said.

Hodeida is strategically important because it has a harbour, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, as most of the commercial imports and relief supplies enter Yemen through it.

The Saudi-led 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 effort.

In June, government forces, backed by coalition air power, started a major offensive to expel Al Houthis from Hodeida in western Yemen. The campaign was temporarily halted in support of UN efforts to revive Yemen’s long-stalled peacemaking.

In the past few days, government loyalists have resumed the Hodeida battle and were able to seize control of the strategically important district of Kilo 16 east of the city.

The breakthrough blocked a main rebel supply route linking Hodeida to the capital Sana’a, which is controlled by Al Houthis.

The Yemeni army thwarted an infiltration by extremists into the area, news portal 26 September Net, linked to the Defence Ministry, reported.

“The army troops foiled the militias’ desperate attempts and inflicted heavy casualties on them,” a field source told the site. “Other militiamen fled towards Hodeida,” the source added.

Government forces were, meanwhile, fighting Al Houthis inside the Hodeida University, south west of the Red Sea city. The rebels have turned the institution into military barracks.

The pro-government Giants Brigades stormed the university on Thursday evening and are engaged in heavy fight against Al Houthis there, the deputy governor of Hodeida said.

Al Houthis have been in control of Hodeida and Sana’a since their late 2014 coup against the internationally recognised government.

In 2015, the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in Yemen at the request of the government against Al Houthis after the militiamen advanced on the southern city of Aden, the temporary capital of the country after their takeover of Sana’a.

In recent months, Al Houthis have suffered major territorial losses by the coalition-supported campaign in different parts of Yemen.