Pro-government forces are closing in on Yemen's Red Sea port of al-Hodeidah, with military officials expressing confidence that the city will be liberated from the Houthis (Ansarallah) within days.
Military sources said Wednesday (May 30th) they are preparing to surround the city in a bid to force the Houthis to surrender it without a fight, AFP reported.
Al-Hodeidah port is the main conduit for humanitarian aid into Yemen, where years of war have left some 22 million people in need of food aid.
Fighting in support of the legitimate government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi are the Yemeni military, the Arab coalition, the National Resistance Forces, the Giant Brigades and the Tihama Resistance.
The Giant Brigades is a former elite unit of the Yemeni army rebuilt by the UAE, reinforced by thousands of fighters from southern Yemen, while the Tihama Resistance draws most of its fighters from the Red Sea coastal region.
"First, we will cut off supply lines, especially between Sanaa and al-Hodeidah, then we will place the Houthis under siege and bring them down, perhaps without a fight," said National Resistance Forces spokesman Col. Sadiq Duwaid.
Clashes broke out east of the city on Wednesday, while the Arab coalition carried out numerous airstrikes on Houthi positions, military sources said.
Liberation is 'imminent'
Earlier this week, the nearby districts of Zabid, al-Tuhayat and al-Durayhimi were taken back from the Iran-backed militia.
“The army has recaptured most of the important areas in al-Hodeidah [province]," army spokesman Col. Abdou Majali said in a Monday interview carried by a local television station.
“Al-Hodeidah will be liberated in a few days,” he said.
Operations in al-Hodeidah province initially targeted al-Tuhayat and Zabid districts, coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Maleki said Monday.
“The Yemeni army has recaptured the coastal villages, and is now just 20 kilometres away from the city centre,” he said, adding that the Houthis' defences "collapsed on the coastal front, and the field commanders fled".
“The liberation of al-Hodeidah is imminent,” said Mohammed Anaam, former editor of the General People’s Congress (GPC) mouthpiece al-Mithaq.
“The Houthis have collapsed, and their senior commanders have fled from the fronts," he told Al-Mashareq, noting that the local population is largely supportive of the liberating forces.
“Local dignitaries are pressuring the remaining Houthi gangs in town to surrender and spare civilians or face death,” he added.
Houthis prepare for confrontation
“The remaining Houthis have sealed off roads in al-Hodeidah in preparation for the confrontation with the national army,” political analyst Munir Talal told Al-Mashareq.
“Their morale is very low, especially after the field commanders fled,” he said.
GPC general committee member Adel al-Shuja told Al-Mashareq he expects the city of al-Hodeidah will be liberated soon, as there are factors that favour the success of these forces.
The National Resistance Forces and other pro-government forces "have been able to achieve several important military successes in record time", political analyst and journalist Saleh al-Baydani told Al-Mashareq.
These include "taking part in the liberation of the area extending from al-Mokha junction to al-Barah, in an operation that resulted in the liberation of four districts in Taez province that make up half the size of the province", he said.
"They also liberated parts of al-Hodeidah province, including the port of al-Hima, and tightened the noose around the towns of al-Jarrahi and al-Tuhayta, which are about to fall," he added.
New element in the war in Yemen
"The presence of the National Resistance Forces under the command of Brig. Gen. Tareq Saleh "represents the entry into the war against the Houthis of a broad range of supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh", al-Baydani said.
The pro-government forces "are all tributaries that will contribute to increasing the capability of the forces fighting the war against the Houthis on the west coast of Yemen and in the western province of Taez", he added.
Many coastal areas and villages have already been liberated, Anaam said.
"The commanders of the Iran-affiliated Houthi militias have fled the cities of al-Hodeidah, Hays, Zabid, al-Jarrahi, Bajil, Salif and others, leaving their weapons behind on the battlefronts, while hundreds of others have surrendered," he said.
Anaam called on all al-Hodeidah province residents to support the forces coming to "liberate them from the control of the Houthi gang".
"Their liberation from the militia's control means their liberation from the poverty, hunger and disease they are suffering from under the [Houthis'] rule," he added.