World

Yemen’s Houthi rebels say they halted Saudi-led advance on port of Hodeida as fighting threatens hospital

AP

Yemen’s rebels claim they halted advances of their adversaries, the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led Arab coalition, at a key battlefield around a strategic Red Sea port city.

Fighting continued around Hodeida on Tuesday despite the statement from the Shiite rebels, also known as Houthis, that a three-pronged coalition assault had been stopped around the city’s outskirts.

The Iran-backed Houthis said they lost at least 30 men and a dozen armored vehicles.

Dozens of fighters have been killed and hundreds wounded from both sides since a renewed coalition offensive on the city began five days ago, following calls by the Trump administration for a cease-fire by late November.

The fighting has left dead bodies lying on the ground and inside burnt-out vehicles at the city’s edge, according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety. The witnesses also said several civilians have been killed by shelling in residential areas.

Local media reported that air raids by the Saudi-led coalition were continuing, as was sporadic fighting around Hodeida, especially along 50th street and the 7th of July neighborhoods in the east.

Other active fronts in Yemen include the provinces of Dhale and Bayda, to the south, and in the north in Hajjah and Saada, a Houthi stronghold.

The Houthi statement also claimed the rebels stopped an attempted incursion by “mercenaries of the Saudi army,” into Yemen from Jizan, a region across the border in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier on Tuesday, the rebels detained two journalists in the capital, Sanaa, colleagues said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. One man was taken from his production company’s office, and another from his home, and both worked with foreign television news channels.

The rebels detained another journalist in Sanaa earlier this month, and have held other overs the course of the war, some for years.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian Refugee Council said millions of Yemenis are edging closer to famine and fatal disease as the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade on sea, land and air routes in the Arab world’s poorest country continued.

The coalition restricted access to Yemen in November last year, after a missile assault by rebels targeted the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Jan Egeland of the NRC said “the past 12 months have been a never-ending nightmare for Yemeni civilians.”

The Saudi-led coalition, which seeks to restore to power the internationally recognized Yemeni government, has been at war with the Houthis since March 2015; the stalemated conflict has generated the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Hodeida, the main portal for humanitarian aid to the suffering population, has become the epicenter of the conflict.

The United States has sold billions of dollars’ worth of arms to Saudi Arabia and provides logistical and other support to the coalition.

Also Tuesday, the head of the U.N. children’s agency warned that the Hodeida fighting “is now dangerously close to Al Thawra hospital — putting the lives of 59 children, including 25 in the intensive care unit, at imminent risk of death.”

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement that medical staff and patients can hear heavy bombing and gunfire and that access to the hospital, “the only functioning one in the area, is now imperiled.”

Hodeida and the neighboring governorates account for 40 per cent of the 400,000 children in the country who suffer from severe acute malnutrition, she said, and that “some of the sickest are taken to the hospital for urgent care.”

Fore added that UNICEF calls on the warring sides to cease hostilities near and around the hospital, and to ensure safe access to it. She also added that the agency is appealing on the combatants to “abide by their legal obligations to stop attacks against civilian infrastructure — including the port of Hodeida.”