Khokha (Yemen) (AFP) – Reinforcements rolled into Yemen’s Hodeida Thursday as the army and its regional allies set their sights on the city’s port held by rebels who have vowed to fight to the end.
Military sources said the army, backed by troops from the United Arab Emirates, had been sending backup troops to the area ahead of a major offensive to close in on the Red Sea port.
“Our preparations are in their final stages for the advance on the port,” a military source told AFP, requesting anonymity.
The Iran-allied Huthi rebels have refused to cede control of Hodeida port, the entry point of three quarters of imports to impoverished Yemen.
The Huthis have controlled the port since 2014, when they drove the government out of the capital and seized much of northern Yemen and a string of Red Sea ports.
On June 13, Yemen’s army and its allies launched their offensive to clear Hodeida of the rebels, raising UN concerns for vital aid shipments and food imports through the city’s docks.
The pro-government forces announced the capture of the Hodeida airport on Wednesday morning.
The airport had been disused but it housed a major rebel base just inland from the coastal road into the city.
Rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi on Wednesday night called for reinforcements to repel the advance of the UAE-backed government forces, after ongoing fighting left nearly 350 people dead in one week.
Hodeida’s residents are now bracing for what they fear will be devastating street fighting, as tanks and buses carrying uniformed troops roll through the empty streets of the once-bustling city.
The Hodeida offensive, dubbed Operation Golden Victory, is the most intense battlefront in the already-brutal Yemen war which has left millions displaced.
The Yemen conflict has since killed nearly 10,000 people, most of them civilians, since 2015, when Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the government’s fight against the Huthis.