Yemeni forces seized Hodeidah airport yesterday in a major step towards retaking the rebel-held port city after a week of fighting that has left nearly 350 people dead.
Fresh clashes later erupted between UAE-backed government forces and the rebels on a road linking the airport to Hodeidah port on the Red Sea coast, a Yemeni army source said.
The city, a crucial entry point for imports and humanitarian aid, is the target of a massive operation launched last week by a Saudi-led coalition fighting on the side of the government.
Pro-government forces announced the capture of Hodeidah airport in the morning, a day after breaking through the perimeter fence.
“The airport was completely cleared, Thank God, and is under control,” the coalition commander for the Red Sea coast, Abdul Salaam al-Shehi, said in a video distributed by the United Arab Emirates’ official WAM news agency.
UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash tweeted that the “liberation of Hodeidah is the beginning to ending the war. The choice in Yemen is between the state and militia, between order and violence, between peace and war,” he wrote, referring to Houthi militiamen.
At least 156 Houthis and 28 soldiers were killed in the fight for the airport, according to Hodeidah hospital sources.
That raised the death toll in the week-old battle for the city to 348. No civilian casualties have yet been confirmed.
On June 13, Yemen’s army and its allies launched their offensive to clear Hodeidah of rebel fighters who have held it since 2014, raising UN concerns for vital aid shipments and food imports through the city’s docks.
The airport is disused but housed a major rebel base just inland from the coastal road into the city from the south.
It lies eight kilometres from the city’s port, through which three-quarters of Yemen’s imports pass, providing a lifeline for some 22mn people dependent on aid. UN envoy Martin Griffiths held four days of talks in the rebel-held capital Sanaa in a bid to avert an all-out battle for the city but flew out on Tuesday without announcing any breakthrough.
The United Nations has warned any attack on Hodeidah port could cripple shipments of desperately needed aid to the 4mn Yemenis facing imminent starvation.
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