Battle for key Yemen port leaves dozens dead



A column of Yemeni pro-government forces and armoured vehicles arrives in al-Durayhimi district, about nine kilometres south of al-Hodeidah international airport, on June 13th.  [Nabil Hassan/AFP]

Yemeni pro-government forces were locked in heavy fighting with the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) that left 39 people dead on Thursday (June 14th), as they pressed an offensive to retake the Red Sea port of al-Hodeidah.

The clashes came as the UN Security Council prepared to hold urgent talks on the military operation.

Yemeni forces backed by the Arab coalition on Wednesday launched an operation to retake al-Hodeidah, under Houthi control since 2014.

The Houthis suffered 30 fatalities on Thursday in clashes near al-Hodeidah airport south of the city, medical sources said.

Nine pro-government troops were killed in the same area, the medics said, with military sources saying the deaths were caused by mines and snipers.

The UAE, a member of the Arab coalition, said four of its troops were killed on the first day of the offensive Wednesday, including at least one navy officer.

The Houthis earlier said they had struck a coalition ship off the coast of al-Hodeidah with two missiles.

Port remains open

Authorities at al-Hodeidah port said it remained open to shipping.

"We still have seven ships in the port. The work in the port is normal. And we have five other ships standing by waiting outside to enter," port director Dawood Fadel said Thursday.

Two Saudi and UAE aid ships were in the waters off al-Hodeidah, coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki told Saudi state media.

The two Gulf states have pledged to ensure a continuous flow of aid to Yemen.

"This coalition will start to operate an air and sea bridge, as well as land, to transport aid and medical supplies, food, shelter and fuel [and] other basic necessities to al-Hodeidah province," Abdullah al-Rabeeah, head of Saudi Arabia's King Salman Aid and Relief Centre, said Wednesday night.

International aid groups have long warned against an offensive on al-Hodeidah because the port serves as the entry point for 70% of Yemen's imports.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, nearly 15% of Yemen's suspected cholera cases have occurred in al-Hodeidah governorate.

The international aid group warned of a "high risk of a second outbreak" should water supplies be disrupted.

The UN Security Council has raised alarm over the military operation, which it says could cripple deliveries of commercial goods and humanitarian aid.

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