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Houthi Leader's Brother May Be Dead in Offensive on Yemen's Hodeidah

14 June 2018

Early on Wednesday, Yemeni government forces, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, launched a full-scale offensive to seize Hodeidah, which is a strategic stronghold of the Houthi rebels and a key entry point for humanitarian aid.

Iranian-aligned Shia rebels known as Houthis and their allies for years have held the Red Sea port, crucial to food supplies in a nation on the brink of starvation after years of war. But if the battle is prolonged, it will leave millions of Yemenis without food, fuel and other vital supplies.

"These efforts included the recent contribution of $1.5 billion to United Nations relief efforts in Yemen, the largest in United Nations history, as well as initiatives to enhance the capacity of ports throughout Yemen, including facilitating the entry of cranes into Hodeidah".

People fled the Red Sea port city on Wednesday as the Houthis deployed military vehicles and troops in the city centre and near the port, while Arab warplanes flew overhead.

Saudi-owned satellite news channels have announced the start of the Saudi-led coalition's assault on Hodeida.

CARE International, one of the few aid agencies still there, said 30 airstrikes hit the city within half an hour. 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 starvation.

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The initial battle plan appeared to involve a pincer movement. The ship was operating in the Red Sea off the embattled Yemeni port city of Hodeidah.

Local military sources said hundreds of Yemeni fighters as well as tanks and gear from the UAE arrived on Monday to reinforce troops, including Emiratis and Sudanese, in al-Durayhmi, a rural area 10 km (6.21 miles) south of Hodeidah.

Yemen's exiled government said in a statement that it "has exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the Houthi militia from the port of Hodeida", according to The Associated Press.

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Hodeidah is the lifeline for most of Yemen's population, who live in Houthi territory.

"The liberation of Hodeidah is critical in light of the growing threat that the Iranian backed Houthi militia poses to the maritime security of the Red Sea, a vital waterway through which about 15% of worldwide commerce passes", the ambassador said. But the first wave of this relatively high-tech assault by irregular Houthi forces occurred back on October 2nd, 2016 when the high-speed logistics catamaran HSV-2 Swift was destroyed by an anti-ship missile. There was no immediate confirmation from the coalition.

The UAE foreign ministry and government communication office did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

"Sheikh Mohammed reiterated that thanks to the gallantry and sacrifices of its forces, the Saudi-led Arab Coalition is stronger and in better position to maintain stability and security and to liberate Yemen and to enable the country to begin a new era of peace and development at the hands of its loyal people", the statement said.

The United Nations and other aid groups already had pulled their global staff from Hodeidah before the rumoured assault.

And just to the north is the Ras Isa oil terminal - which served the Marib oilfields and was the country's main export terminal - and the nearby port of Saleef. He said a senior official from the U.N. Secretariat would brief council members in closed consultations.

Aid groups nevertheless warned of disaster.

"Under worldwide 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", Lise Grande, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, told Reuters by email.

"I think the Emiratis have done a good job in presenting compelling arguments about why an operation (on Hodeidah) could in the end tip the balance and apply enough pressure to bring the Houthis to the table", a Western diplomat said on Monday.

Houthi Leader's Brother May Be Dead in Offensive on Yemen's Hodeidah