Yemeni forces close in on Hodeida airport

Cairo: Yemeni government forces on Friday looked set to capture an airport in Hodeida, as part of a major battle aimed at ending Iran-allied rebels’ control of the coastal city, military sources re-ported.

The forces, supported by the Arab Coalition, reached the perime-ter of the airport after they advanced into the adjacent village of Manzra where they were fighting Al Houthi rebels, the sources added, according to Yemeni media.

Yemen’s pro-government news portal Aden Al Ghad reported that the coalition-backed forces were already inside the airport where they were engaged in fierce clashes against Al Houthis. The report could not be immediately confirmed.

The Red Sea city of Hodeida is strategically important because it has a harbor, which is is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis as most of the commercial imports and relief supplies enter through it to the country.

On Wednesday, the government forces, backed by the coalition air power, started the offensive “Golden Victory” targeting Hodeida in western Yemen and have since made rapid advances against Al Houthis.

The rebels have repeatedly threatened to attack oil tankers using Bab Al Mandab, a major waterway between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, linking the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Su-ez Canal.

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are leading partners to the Arab Coalition, which started a military campaign against Al Houthis in 2015 after the rebels moved on Aden, the temporary seat of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, after the militias seized the capital Sanaa.

A senior UAE official on Friday said that the ongoing battle for liberating Hodeida is crucial for ending the war in Yemen.

“For three years, the Houthis have resisted multiple opportunities to engage in serious peace talks,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a series of tweets.

“If they keep Hodeida and its revenues and its strategic location, the war will last a long time and the suffering of the Yemeni people,” he added in English tweets.“This deadlock must end. It is clear that for the UN-led political process to succeed, the situation on the ground must change.”

Gargash added that depriving Al Houthis of their control of Hodeida port, at the Yemeni government’s request, will stop the rebels from imposing “their will at the barrel of a gun.”

A series of UN-brokered rounds of talks for Yemen’s peace have led nowhere.

“They will be one Yemeni group among others, jointly negotiating to decide the future of their country. That is the goal of our operations in Hodeida,” said Gargash on his Twitter account, referring to Al Houthis, who have been in con-trol of the port city since late 2014.

In September 2014, Al Houthis ran over Sanaa, forcing the government of President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi to go to Aden.

On Friday, Hadi visited the UAE and Saudi forces in Aden and congratulated them on the start of Eid Al Fitr.

The Yemeni leader also praised both countries for their support, Yemen’s offi-cial news agency Saba reported.

“With your pure blood, you have recorded heroic epics that will remain vivid in the memory of the Yemeni people,” he said.

He added that the coalition campaign is necessary to put an end to Iran’s ex-pansion and its “abominable project targeting Yemen and the region”.

Hadi returned to Aden on Thursday after months-long stay in Saudi Arabia.