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Saudi-backed Yemeni forces ready for offensive on key port

Hodeidah has already been badly damaged in Saudi air strikes [AFP]

Date of publication: 6 April, 2017

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Pro-government Yemeni forces are gearing up for an assault on Hodeidah, a key Yemeni port controlled by Houthi rebels.

Yemeni forces backing the internationally-recognised government are preparing for an assault on a key port town held by Houthi rebels.

Fighters aligned to President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the government's Arab allies are building up around Hodeidah, despite UN urged for a de-escalation in tensions around the town.

Two brigades of armour are positioned for the assault, which could see pro-government forces move further up the coast after recent victories in other ports such as Mokka.

"The continued military escalation in Yemen, specifically the militarisation of large regions on its Western Coast and the associated increase of humanitarian access obstacles and population movement restrictions, are of grave concern to the humanitarian community," the Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen said, according to Reuters.

"This is only resulting in more displacement, more institutional collapse, and more suffering."

Hodeidah is a key goal for the Gulf-backed forces, being the entry point for 70 percent of Yemen's food and humanitarian supplies.

Yemen is on the brink of famine, with blockades, attacks on shipping, and air strikes on port infrastructure contributing to the already terrible conditions brought on by the two-year war.

Food imports have been cut by more than a half during the fighting while about 7.3 million people in Yemen are in dire need of food aid, including 2.3 million children who are acutely malnourished.

A senior official in the Hadi government told Reuters that the military was ready for an offensive on the port town, but waiting for the command to attack.

However, the offensive shouldn't be an easy one, analysts say, and Houthi forces are busy building up defences in Hodeidah in anticipation of the assault.

"Tens of thousands of our fighters from the tribes have answered the call of (the Houthi leader) Abdul Malek al-Houthi," deputy spokesman of the rebels said, according to the news agency.

The planned offensive follows the UN's rejection of a Saud-led offer for Hodeidah to be placed under international supervision.

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