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Port-rush: Yemen government moves to block rebel maritime supply-routes Open in fullscreen

Robert Cusack

Port-rush: Yemen government moves to block rebel maritime supply-routes

Government soldiers celebrate victory outside Mokha on January 23 [AFP]

Date of publication: 26 January, 2017

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Government fighters reclaimed control over the port town of Mokha on the Red Sea, the latest supply-route to have fallen from rebel control.
Military forces loyal to President Saleh reclaimed control over the strategically important port-town of Mokha in Yemen on Thursday - the sixth port to have fallen to government control recently.

Twenty Houthi rebel fighters and seven government soldiers were killed in the assault on the port, where weapons are thought to have been flowing freely from Eritrea and Djibouti since the civil war began.

"The city centre is still in the hands of the Houthis, while the loyalist forces have taken up positions on three axes around the city and cut off the rebels' supply route between Mokha and Taiz," a military official told AFP.

The military announced that it had taken the town on Monday, but has since stated that it only gained control over the port.

"Government forces have taken control of six important ports used to smuggle weapons, missiles, drones and communication devices to the rebels," said Brigadier General Abdu Majali.

"Every port will soon be under the control of the legitimate government, cutting off all sea and land routes for the smuggling of weapons to the rebels."

A government communique announced that six ports were now under their control, including Nishtun, al-Shihr, al-Mukalla, Balhaf, Aden and Mokha.

The Bab al-Mandab Strait has seen a large buildup in military infrastructure in recent months, as the Saudi-backed coalition looks to tackle rebel supply routes across the Red Sea.

The port of Midi was captured from Houthi fighters on Tuesday, however heavy fighting has continued in this area.

Nearly 230 soldiers have been killed on both sides since President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi announced Operation Golden Spear, a mission to expel rebel fighters from the Taiz governorate, on January 7.

Mokha is an important logistical port in the Taiz governorate due to its close proximity to the Horn of Africa on the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

The Bab al-Mandab Strait has seen a large buildup in military infrastructure in recent months, as the Saudi-backed coalition looks to tackle rebel supply routes across the Red Sea.

[Click to expand] A map of the main port towns in Yemen

Saudi Arabia announced in December that it planned to build a military port in Djibouti in order to better fight Houthi rebel boats in the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

The UAE has also expanded the port of Assab in neighbouring Eritrea to allow for a large number of its military ships and aircraft.

An analysis of UAE missile locations by Bellingcat on Wednesday showed there had been a build-up in missiles at the Assab base recently. The analysis also showed a number of SAM missiles had recently moved from Aden Airport and al-Anad air base to an unknown location.

This military buildup is thought to be related to Iran's interest in building a presence in the Red Sea. Iran has expressed its intention of expanding its naval capabilities globally in the past.

"We need distant bases, and it may become possible one day to have bases on the shores of Yemen or Syria, or bases on islands or floating (bases)," Iranian General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri said in November.

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