Khokha (Yemen) (AFP) – Yemeni forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE massed around the key port city of Hodeida Wednesday in a bid to seize it from Iran-backed Huthi rebels, Emirati state media reported.
“Yemeni resistance forces have increased their readiness for combat in preparation for the battle to liberate Hodeida from the grip of the Huthi militias,” Emirati state news agency WAM said.
It quoted a Yemeni military source saying that “large contingents” from the Giants Brigades, National Resistance and Tihama Resistance had reached the outskirts of Hodeida city, backed by sophisticated weapons systems.
“They continue to deploy along the front lines in anticipation of the start of the battle,” the source said.
Hodeida is home to 600,000 people and is the entry point for 70 percent of Yemen’s imports, including vital aid supplies for civilians in the war-wracked country.
The Huthis captured Hodeida and Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2014.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and a bloc of other countries intervened the following year with the goal of restoring the government to power.
Analysts say anti-rebel forces are determined to drive the Huthis from Hodeida, having failed to score any major military victories since the first year of the war.
The offensive is controversial as Hodeida serves as the key entry point for supplies into a country teetering on the brink of famine.
The Saudi-led coalition accuses the Huthis of using the port to secure Iranian arms, notably the ballistic missiles the militants have increasingly fired into Saudi territory.
The coalition has long insisted the Huthis cede the port to the United Nations if they wish to avoid a military offensive.
Yemen’s government declared Tuesday night that negotiations had failed to force the rebels from Hodeida, and that a grace period for UN-led peace efforts was over.
“All peaceful and political means of removing the Huthi militia from Hodeida port have been exhausted,” the government said in a statement carried by Yemen’s state news agency Saba.
The UN on Monday withdrew all of its international staff from Hodeida ahead of the impending assault, warning that any offensive would put millions of lives at risk.
The conflict has left nearly 10,000 people dead in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country.