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Army reinforcements roll into Yemen's embattled Hodeidah

Local residents are now bracing for what they fear will be devastating street fighting [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 June, 2018

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Reinforcements roll into Yemen's Hodeidah as the army and its regional allies set their sights on the city's port, held by the Houthis.

Much needed reinforcements rolled into Yemen's Hodeidah on 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 Houthi rebels have refused to cede control of Hodeidah port, the entry point of three quarters of imports to impoverished Yemen.

UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash said the rebels' full withdrawal "is the only route to avert worsening the situation in and around the city."

"We will not allow Houthis to divert us from our strategic goals. We will continue to exert military pressure and respect the fragile humanitarian conditions," he wrote on Twitter.

Read also: Saudi Arabia and UAE's dangerous rivalry over Yemen

The Houthis 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 Hodeidah of the rebels, raising UN concerns for vital aid shipments and food imports through the city's docks.

Four pro-government fighters and 22 Houthis have been killed in the past 24 hours, medical sources said on Thursday, bringing the death toll in the battle for Hodeidah to 374.

Local 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 pro-government forces announced the capture of Hodeidah 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-Houthi on Wednesday night called for reinforcements to repel the advance of the UAE-backed government forces.

Local 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 UN's special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said his priority was to "avoid a military confrontation in Hodeidah and to swiftly return to political negotiations," adding he was "encouraged" by his talks with Houthi rebel leaders.

"I will continue my consultations with all parties to avoid further military escalation in Hodeidah, which I fear would have severe political and humanitarian consequences," Griffiths added.

The envoy said he would soon meet with Yemen's leadership, forced out of Sanaa, without giving a precise date.

The Hodeidah offensive, dubbed Operation Golden Victory, is the most intense battlefront in the already-brutal Yemen war which has left millions displaced.

Since the 2015 intervention of Saudi Arabia and its allies in Yemen, allegedly joining the government's fight against the Houthis, nearly 10,000 people have been killed with a majority of civilian victims.

Read also: Saudi Arabia's blockade hits ordinary Yemenis hardest

The United Nations has expressed concern about a new outbreak of cholera in Hodeidah which has already killed more than 2,000 people in Yemen in nearly a year.

"Even before the recent violence, several districts had been identified to be at highest risk of a renewed outbreak," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.

"As part of their obligations under international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict must take care not to damage water and sanitation infrastructure."

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