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U.N.: 25,000-Plus Civilians Flee Yemen Port City as Fighting Rages

Members of displaced Yemeni families who fled battles between government forces and Huthi fighters near the Hodeida airport stand on the balcony of a school used as temporary housing inside the city of Hodeida on June 17, 2018
AFP ABDO HYDER

Ongoing fierce clashes between the Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-allied Houthi rebels over the control of Yemen’s most vital port city, Hodeida, have forced about 26,000 residents to flee so far, the United Nations declared this week as fighting continues to rage.

Saudi-led coalition fighters believe that taking control of the port city of Hodeida— Yemen’s main entry point for food, humanitarian aid, fuel, and supply as well as the Houthis’ top source of revenue — would break years of stalemate, ultimately ending the war that started in March 2015.

The anti-Houthi alliance launched their offensive to push the Shiite rebels out of Hodeida last Wednesday.

U.N. officials have warned against the operation, arguing that it will further strain the already worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

Echoing various news reports, a local aid worker told the Independent on condition of anonymity, “People are trying to leave with rockets and mortars over their heads. Other people are besieged in their homes. They don’t know if their family members managed to escape or who survived. It’s hot and there is no water and we are scared. Please stop what is happening.”

On Monday, Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, told reporters that the battles have pushed an estimated 5,200 families, or about 26,000 safety-seeking residents, out of Hodeida into other areas across the country. The number is expected to increase as hostilities continue.

Citing Yemeni officials, the Associated Press (AP) now reports battles are raging outside of the Hodeida airport, “pitting thousands” of fighters loyal to the internationally recognized government of Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi backed by a Saudi-led coalition against Iranian-assisted Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies.

“The United Arab Emirates-backed Amaleqa brigades, supported by airstrikes and naval shelling from the Saudi-led coalition, have been trying to storm the southern and western parts of the airport, the officials said. However, landmines and Houthi snipers have been hindering efforts to get the airport under government control, they said,” AP notes.

The Agence France-Presse (AFP) agency reveals that Hodeida residents are now expecting street battles.

“Trenches, military tanks and civilians fleeing by the busload: Yemen’s Hodeida, once a bustling port city, is now bracing for battles in its streets,” AFP reports.

The port city of Hodeida is the capital of a Yemeni province of the same name.

While the ongoing Saudi offensive only started last week, deteriorating security conditions have driven over 32,000 people out of their homes across Hodeida province throughout this month, AFP points out, citing the U.N.

The U.N. fears the ongoing operations will worsen the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which is already plagued by hunger and disease.

Despite the ongoing fighting, the Hodeida ports continue to operate, AP learned from the U.N.

Officials from the U.N. and the United States, which has provided logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition in the past, have come out against the Hodeida offensive.

“The offensive for Hodeida has faced criticism from international aid groups, who fear a protracted fight could force a shutdown of the city’s port and potentially tip millions into starvation,” AP notes. “Some 70 percent of Yemen’s food enters via the port, as well as the bulk of humanitarian aid and fuel supplies. Around two-thirds of the country’s population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.”

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