The Saudi-led military alliance launched its assault on the heavily defended Yemeni Red Sea port city of Hodeidah to weaken the Houthis by cutting off a key supply line for the group, which controls the Yemeni capital Sanaa and most populated areas.
Coalition forces seized the airport on 27 June and have been consolidating their hold in the area as UN efforts continued to reach a political deal that would avert an assault on the port, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis. The United Nations fears the escalation in fighting could exacerbate what is already the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, with 22 million Yemenis dependent on aid and an estimated 8.4 million believed to be on the verge of starvation.
Hodeidah is the main port servicing the Houthi-controlled capital, Sanaa, and in successive waves of war that swept across Yemen over the last eight years, the city has been a strategic prize, the gateway to the country’s north. Saudi Arabia and the UAE hope the battle for Hodeidah can break a deadlock in the three-year war.
The World Food Programme said the fighting could result in up to 1.1 million people being either displaced or trapped within the city and in need of emergency food assistance. The International Crisis Group said the battle for Hodeidah was reaching “the point of no return”.
The coalition has pledged a swift military operation to take over the airport and seaport without entering the city centre, to minimize civilian casualties and maintain the flow of goods.
The humanitarian dimension of the Yemen conflict has become politicized. Critics of the Saudi and UAE intervention highlight the dire consequences of the war on areas of the country controlled by Houthi-backed rebels. The Saudi-UAE coalition has been accused of attempting to exploit the outpouring of global concern for Yemen’s starving, disease-ravaged civilians to cloak territorial grabs while downplaying its own sea blockade that has restricted or delayed imports and airstrikes that have caused civilian casualties.
The Houthis have been accused of abusing aid to maintain a tight grip on power over the areas they control by selecting who gives and gets aid. The heads of the relief groups that operate out of Hodeidah have privately acknowledged that the Houthis control the import, storage, transport, and distribution of international aid, using it as a political tool, and when opportune, exploiting the suffering of Yemeni civilians to put pressure on the Saudi-UAE coalition.