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World

REUTERS
June 14, 2018

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Arab states launch largest assault of Yemen war, attack on main port

ADEN: A Saudi-led alliance of Arab states launched the largest assault of Yemen´s war on Wednesday with an attack on the main port city, aiming to drive the ruling Houthi movement to its knees at the risk of worsening the world´s biggest humanitarian crisis. Arab warplanes and warships pounded Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by foreign and Yemeni troops massed south of the port of Hodeidah in operation “Golden Victory”.

The assault marks the first time the Arab states have tried to capture such a heavily-defended major city since they joined the war three years ago against the Iran-aligned Houthis, who control the capital Sanaa and most of the populated areas.

The Houthis had deployed military vehicles and troops in the city centre and near the port, as coalition warplanes flew overhead striking a coastal strip to the south, one resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. People were fleeing by routes out to the north and west.

Some 300,000 children risk death, injury and starvation as they are trapped in Yemen´s main port city which is under assault from Saudi-led Arab states, aid groups said on Wednesday.

The biggest battle in a three-year war, which has already created the world´s biggest humanitarian crisis, centres on Hodeidah, the main route for food and aid to reach most Yemenis, 8.4 million of whom are on the verge of famine. Jolien Veldwijk, acting country director for the charity CARE International called the attack “catastrophic, hopeless and devastating”, worsening hunger as food will become harder to find and more expensive. “If the port closed, even for a day, then the number of people at risk of famine will increase because no food will come into the country,” she said by phone from the capital Sanaa. Hodeidah, said 30 air strikes had hit the city within half an hour on Wednesday morning. “Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes. We thought it could not get any worse, but unfortunately we were wrong,” said CARE acting country director, Jolien Veldwijk.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV quoted witnesses describing “concentrated and intense” bombing near the port itself. The United Nations fears the assault could drastically worsen already desperate conditions in the region´s poorest country. The city and surrounding area are home to 600,000 people, and the port is the main route for food and aid to reach most Yemenis, 8.4 million of whom are on the verge of famine.

“Under international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict have to do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they need to survive. Right now, nothing is more important,” said Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordiNator for Yemen, who is in Sanaa. UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi said there was a danger of a more immediate crisis if Yemenis began to abandon their homes in large numbers. Port workers told Reuters five ships were docked at Hodeidah port unloading goods, but no new entry permits would be issued on Wednesday due to the fighting. The Arab states say they will try to keep the port running and can ease the crisis once they seize it by lifting import restrictions they have imposed. Western countries, particularly the United States and Britain, have quietly backed the Arab states diplomatically and sell them billions of dollars a year in arms, but have mostly avoided direct public involvement so far in the Yemen conflict. A major battle could test that support, especially if many civilians are killed or supplies disrupted.

The operation began after the passing of a three-day deadline set by the United Arab Emirates, one of the coalition´s leaders, for the Houthis to quit the port. “The liberation of the port is the start of the fall of the Houthi militia and will secure marine shipping in the Bab al-Mandab strait and cut off the hands of Iran, which has long drowned Yemen in weapons that shed precious Yemeni blood,” the Arab-backed government-in-exile said in a statement.

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