This image grab taken from a AFPTV video shows Yemeni pro-government forces firing a heavy machine gun at the south of Hodeida airport, in Yemen's Hodeida province on June 15, 2018. Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: Yemeni government forces, backed by the Arab Coalition, recaptured on Saturday a main airport in the strategic city of Hodeida, a major win in an ongoing campaign aimed at flushing Iran-backed Al Houthi militias from the Red Sea city.

The Yemeni army said that joint forces liberated the airport from Al Houthis and that engineering teams started clearing the facility from mines and explosives left behind by fleeing rebels.

“The armed forces which are supported by the Arab coalition has freed the Al Hodeida International Airport from Al Houthi militias and the engineering teams have started to clean the airport and its surroundings from mines and bombs,” Yemen’s military said on its official Twitter account.

Yemeni media posted images from inside the airport showing some of its amenities damaged due to the fight that erupted on Friday.

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

The takeover of the airport, which lies around 10 kilometres from the port, clears the way for the government forces to move towards the harbour and the centre of Hodeida.

Sadek Dawad, spokesman of the Republic Guards force loyal to the Yemeni government, said government forces had battled onto the airport campus.

“The military operations to liberate the city of Hodeida will not be stopped until we secure the city and its strategic port and that won’t last too long,” he told The Associated Press.

The fast-paced advances dealt a decisive blow to Al Houthis, who have been in control of Hodeida and the capital Sana’a since a late 2014 coup against the internationally recognised government.

The full recapture of Hodeida will deprive the Iran-aligned militias from the only port that is still under their control and cut off their arms supply route to Sana’a from the city.

The Saudi-led Arab Coalition says Al Houthis were taking advantage of their control of Hodeida port to obtain weapons from their Iranian patrons.

The militias 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 Yemeni forces, backed by the Coalition air power, started the offensive “Golden Victory” targeting Hodeidah in western Yemen. At least 250 Al Houthis have since been killed in battles around and inside the city.

The onslaught, the largest in Yemen’s three-year war, was launched after Al Houthis spurned peace offers.

UN envoy in Yemen for emergency

UN Special envoy Martin Griffiths arrived in Sana’a on Saturday in a fresh attempt to convince Al Houthis of handing over Hodeida and end the battle for the city of about 600,000 people.

The fight over Hodeida has triggered concerns about living conditions inside the city.

The UAE, a leading partner to the Arab Coalition, began on Saturday delivering humanitarian supplies to areas retaken from Al Houthis in Hodeidah, Yemen’s official news agency Saba reported.

The UAE Red Crescent sent a convoy of aid from Yemen’s southern city of Aden to Hodeidah targeting 70,000 people there.

“This convoy comes in continuation of the Emirati Red Crescent’s humanitarian efforts in Yemen as part of a strategic plan to support the liberated provinces,” the aid organisation said in a statement.

In 2015, the Arab Coalition led by Saudi Arabia started a military campaign against Al Houthis after the rebels moved on Aden, the temporary seat of the government, after the militias had run over Sana’a.

— With inputs from agencies