A statement posted Saturday on the Houthis’ official news agency, SABA, quoted Ahmed Taresh, the head of Hodeida airport, as adding that airstrikes have completely destroyed the airport.
The Houthi-run Al Masirah satellite news channel aired footage it described as being from near Hodeida showing a burned-out truck, corpses of irregular fighters and a damaged Emirati armored vehicle. The Iranian-aligned fighters rifled through a military ledger from the vehicle before chanting their slogan: “Death to America, death to Israel, damn the Jews, victory to Islam!”
Yemeni officials and witnesses said forces from the United Arab Emirates-backed Amaleqa brigades, backed by air cover from the Saudi-led coalition, were heading to eastern Hodeida province to attempt to cut off the main road that links it with the capital, Sanaa.
The officials said that if government forces capture the Kilo 16 Road they will trap the rebels in Hodeida and the western coast and prevent them from receiving supplies from the capital. The rebels are then expected to have no choice but to head to the northern province of Hajjah.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media and the witnesses for fear of reprisals.
The Saudi-led coalition began its assault Wednesday on Hodeida, the main entry for food into a country already on the brink of famine. Emirati forces are leading ground forces mixed with their own troops, irregular militiamen and soldiers backing Yemen’s exiled government. Saudi Arabia has provided air support, with targeting guidance and refueling coming from the U.S.
United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths, meanwhile arrived in Sanaa in an effort to broker a cease-fire.
International aid groups and the U.N. cautioned the Saudi-led coalition from launching the assault. Their fear is that a protracted fight could force a shutdown of Hodeida’s port at a time when a halt in aid risks tipping millions into starvation. Some 70 percent of Yemen’s food enters via the port, as well as the bulk of humanitarian aid and fuel supplies. Around two-thirds of the country’s population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.
The World Health Organization expressed concern on Saturday over the fighting around Hodeida, calling for unbroken aid access and protection of health workers.
In a statement Saturday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “we stand with our U.N. partners to call on all parties to the conflict to protect the port, and allow its uninterrupted functioning. We also call on all parties to protect health workers and their facilities from harm, as well as to ensure unimpeded access for medical teams seeking to treat the wounded.”
For its part, the Saudi-led coalition says it had no choice but to launch the assault as the port provided millions of dollars for the Houthis through customs controls. They also accuse the Houthis of using the port to smuggle weapons through, something a U.N. panels of experts described in January as “unlikely” as incoming ships require U.N. permission and are subject to random searches.
The U.N. and Western nations say Iran has supplied the Houthis with weapons, from assault rifles to the ballistic missiles they have fired deep into Saudi Arabia, including at the capital, Riyadh.
The coalition has blocked most ports, letting supplies into Hodeida in coordination with the U.N. The air campaign and fighting have disrupted other supply lines, causing an economic crisis that makes food too expensive for many to afford.