1. Battle for Hodeida, home to hundreds of thousands of civilians, as well as #Yemen's most important port, has officially started.— Kristine Beckerle (@K_Beckerle) June 13, 2018
Fight will impact millions.
Key concerns below. @hrw pic.twitter.com/hDD0cpminr
The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s exiled government launched a barrage of bombardment and gunfire on a critical port city of Hodeida. The assault was the largest offensive in the three-year war on Middle-East’s poorest nation, for the main entry point of food at a time when a halt in aid can tip millions into starvation.
According to UAE state media, a member of the Saudi-led coalition, the “Golden Victory operation” was intended to free the city from pro-Iranian Houthi rebels. Vehicles headed towards the rebel-held city and sounds of rapid gunfire could be heard on Wednesday. The assault included airstrikes and shelling by naval ships and heavy bombardment comprised of 30 strikes in just 30 minutes.
Fighters led by Emirati troops and allied forces loyal to Yemen’s exiled government approached Hodeida in recent days. The crucial sea port is 90 miles away from the capital city of Sanaa, which has been under the control of Houthi rebels since September 2014. The Saudi-led coalition joined the war in March 2016.
The assault on the Red Sea port aimed to break the hold of the pro-Iranian Shiite rebels on the city and crack their prolonged deadlock. However, more battles of this proportion could exact a heavy death toll.
Human rights groups fear an extended fight could shut down the port when the country is already on the brink of famine. Almost 90 percent of Yemen’s food and the major fuel supply and humanitarian aid, enters through the city. Around 65 percent of the population of 27 million relies on Hodeida for aid and 8.4 million people are already in danger of starvation.
The United Nations also said around 600,000 Yemeni citizens live in and around Hodeida and about 250,000 people’s lives are at risk from the deadly assault. Humanitarian groups are deeply concerned by the escalating situation but their pleas fall on deaf ears.
#Yemen can’t wait.— ICRC (@ICRC) June 13, 2018
We’ve got food, medical supplies, water purification systems and sanitation supplies in Hodeida.
But these life-saving items cannot be given to those in need while fighting is ongoing.
David Miliband, the head of the International Rescue Committee, called the offensive "an attack on the political and diplomatic process to bring peace to Yemen" and pleaded with the United Nations Security Council to intervene on behalf of the people of Hodeida before they “suffer the same fate as those in Aleppo, Mosul or Raqqa.”
Over 6,000 people have been killed and 2 million displaced in Yemen since the start of the war. Saudi-led airstrikes have also killed a large number of civilians and damaged essential infrastructure and its air fighting has disrupted supply lines, giving birth to an economic crisis that has made food unaffordable. Last fall, Saudi forces blockaded air and sea routes into Yemen, claiming they wanted to stop weapons falling into the enemy’s hands. But what they really did was cut off food and medical supplies to a cholera-ridden country that has left 400,000 children malnourished.
However, the Gulf kingdom still maintains their initiatives are aimed to prevent weapons getting into the rebels’ hands. In fact, the Saudi ambassador to the United States Khalid bin Salman insists Saudi Arabia was aiding Yemen’s humanitarian efforts.
The Kingdom has been and will continue to be at the forefront of humanitarian efforts to support the brotherly people of Yemen.— Khalid bin Salman ???? ?? ????? (@kbsalsaud) June 13, 2018
The words ring false, though, since on June 11, the Saudi coalition destroyed a newly built cholera clinic in the city of Abs.
Doctors Without Borders have temporarily suspended its operations with Yemen’s head of mission, Joao Martin, condemning the attack.
“This morning’s attack on an MSF cholera treatment center (CTC) by the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition (SELC) shows complete disrespect for medical facilities and patients. Whether intentional or a result of negligence, it is totally unacceptable,” he said. “The compound was clearly marked as a health facility and its coordinates were shared with the SELC. With only half of health facilities in Yemen fully functional, nearly 10 million people in acute need, and an anticipated outbreak of cholera, the CTC had been built to save lives.”
Late last year, the UN Human Rights Council voted to investigate Saudi Arabia for crimes against humanity with regards to Yemen, claiming it had not only targeted medical facilities but also schools, marketplaces and community centers.
The United States is also complicit in the war and has sold billions of dollars of weapons to the wealthy Gulf kingdom. At the same time, it is participating in the Yemen war by providing intelligence and refueling capacity. As regards to Hodeida, U.S. has supported the airstrikes by Saudi forces, though said it was not 100 percent comfortable the assault would lead to a humanitarian crisis — something that is already happening.
Meanwhile, the three years of war have cost 6,385 civilian lives, 60 percent of which have been taken by Saudi-led coalition.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad