At least 150 people have been killed in 24 hours of clashes in Yemen’s Hodeida, medics and military sources said Monday, as international pressure mounted for a ceasefire in the vital port city.
Government loyalists supported by a Saudi-led coalition are fighting to oust the Iran-backed Huthi rebels from the Red Sea city, whose docks are a lifeline to 14 million Yemenis at risk of starvation.
‘If the port at Hodeida is destroyed, that could create an absolutely catastrophic situation,’ UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned.
‘The fighting must stop, a political debate must begin, and we must prepare a massive humanitarian response to avoid the worst next year,’ he said.
A source in the pro-government coalition said the insurgents had pushed back a large-scale assault aimed at moving towards the port.
Government forces, led on the ground by Emirati-backed troops, have made their way into Hodeida after 11 days of clashes, reaching residential neighbourhoods in the east on Sunday and sparking fears of street fights that would further endanger civilians trapped in the city.
Residents and government military sources have reported rebel snipers stationed on rooftops in civilian streets in eastern Hodeida, a few kilometres from the port on the western edge of the city.
Mariam Aldogani, Save the Children’s field coordinator in Yemen, said that the people in Hodeida are living in a ‘state of fear’.
‘There is ongoing fighting, and the situation is very bad,’ she said over the weekend by phone, as strikes were heard in the background.
The Hodeida offensive has sparked international outcry unprecedented in nearly four years of conflict between the Huthis and the Saudi-backed government.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Sunday urged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a major ally of Washington, to engage in peace talks.
British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt will visit Saudi Arabia on Monday, where he will press king Salman and prince Mohammed to support UN efforts to end the conflict, the foreign office said.
Both the United States and Britain are major suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia.
Hunt will also meet senior officials from Yemen and the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, a key pillar of the Saudi-led coalition supporting the Yemeni government.
‘The human cost of war in Yemen is incalculable,’ Hunt said ahead of his trip. ‘The only solution is now a political decision to set aside arms and pursue peace.’
Aid groups fear for the safety of nearly 600,000 people living in Hodeida — and for millions of others dependent on its port for what little food and humanitarian aid trickle into impoverished, blockaded Yemen.
A military official in Hodeida on Monday confirmed seven civilians had died, without giving further details.
Medics in hospitals across Hodeida province reported 111 rebels and 32 loyalist fighters killed overnight, according to a tally by AFP.
Sources at the Al-Alfi military hospital, seized by the rebels during their 2014 takeover, said charred body parts had been delivered there overnight. Military sources confirmed that the Saudi-led alliance had targeted the rebels with multiple air strikes.
The rebels have begun to evacuate their wounded to Sanaa, the capital, which the Huthis seized during a 2014 takeover that included a string of ports on Yemen’s coastline.
Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the Yemeni government’s fight against the Huthis in 2015, triggering what the UN now calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Nearly 600 people have been killed since clashes erupted in Hodeida on November 1, ending a temporary suspension in a government offensive to take the city that began in June.
The coalition has come under intense international pressure to end the conflict in Yemen, particularly following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist killed in his country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, was an ardent critic of Prince Mohammed, who has spearheaded the kingdom’s controversial role in the Yemen war.
Multiple countries, including Germany and Norway, have announced the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s killing.
The United Nations’ Yemen envoy, Martin Griffiths, is pushing for peace talks between the Huthis and the government by the end of the year.
The United States, which for years provided military training and aerial refuelling for the Saudi-led coalition, on Saturday announced it would end its inflight refuelling support for the alliance.
The coalition has been blacklisted by the United Nations for the killing and maiming of children, particularly in air raids on rebel-held territory.
The alliance accuses Iran of smuggling arms to the Huthis through Hodeida port. Tehran denies the charges.
The World Health Organisation estimates nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the Yemen war since 2015. But rights groups believe the toll may be five times as high.
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