Hodeidah port city is ''Red Line''

July 1, 2018

Yemen's key port city of Hodeidah, the lifeline for more than 20 million Yemenis, plays a crucial role in food, fuel and medicine imports into the country.

On June 13, militias loyal to exiled Hadi backing by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia began a major assault on the western coast and the port of Al Hodeidah, in an effort to dislodge Houthi forces.

However, due to the high risks of a humanitarian crisis once the port city stormed and besieged, the United Nations has been attempting to secure an agreement with the Houthis to place the port under UN control, but the efforts are still ongoing.

The Houthi-held Red Sea port – the distribution point for more than 70 percent of aid to Yemen – has been under assault from an alliance of foreign forces, leading by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Hodeidah also is the key entry point for most basic goods into the most densely populated northern cities, including around 37 percent of fuel and 69 percent of food imports.

The north, including the capital Sanaa, Taiz governorate, Hodeidah, Ibb, Hajjah, Dhamar and other northern highlands and provinces, are home to around 60 percent of an overall estimated population of 27.4 million.

Millions of children throughout Yemen depend on the humanitarian aid and commercial goods that come through Hodeidah port.

When the coalition blocked ships from entering Hodeida port, humanitarian organizations reported an increase of food and fuel prices by up to 100 per cent.

More than three years into Yemen’s destructive war, the coalition forces have yet to seize control over the port.

The US-backed Arab coalition are advancing slowly on the western coast, because the Yemeni army and popular committees have failed every coalition attempts.

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International has accused the coalition forces of deliberately delaying unloading of aid in the port, adding that such actions are amounted to a collective punishment and war crimes.

Amnesty in its recent 22-page report, entitled Stranglehold, said that since 2015 the coalition has repeatedly tightened its blockade to two Houthi-controlled ports of Saleef and Hodeidah, seriously impeding Yemenis from access to food.

Using baseless claims of smuggling in arms through the port, the Saudis slow the docking of ships by carrying out more inspections that delayed vessels by an average of 120 hours in March and 74 hours in April this year, Amnesty said in the report.

The Saudi allegations have been denied by both Yemen and Iran.

If the port was attacked and the imports activities are suspended in Hodeidah, Yemen's fourth largest city, its effects will be catastrophic for nearly 70 percent of the population in Yemen's northern provinces.

Humanitarian aid groups warn that any interruption to that movement of the port would cut supplies to eight million people already on the edge of starvation, and cause a sharp rise in food prices for other Yemenis, potentially tipping them into danger, UNICEF reported.

The United Nations World Food Program has warned that Hodeidah determines the fate of millions of Yemenis.

The United Arab Emirates, which is commanding the assault on Hodeidah, insists that it can achieve a rapid, clean victory that will even improve aid supplies to Yemen. But as the battle slowed and the UAE has failed to gain grounds, many aid workers accused the coalition of engaging in manipulating the flowing of aid supplies.

The French newspaper “Le Figaro” revealed the presence of French troops participating in the battle of the Yemeni western coast along with the UAE forces.

The French newspaper quoted two military sources as saying: “There are Special French Forces on Yemen supporting the UAE forces.” However, no French nor Saudis or Emirates have managed to advance till now.

The Chief of Houthi (Ansarallah) Abdulmalik al-Houthi said,”The decision of invading the Yemeni western coast has been taken and adopted by the United States of America.'

Al-Houthi noted that the Saudis are trying to abolish Yemen’s freedom, stressing that 'it was the people of Yemen’s right to defend their country.'

At the same time, Ansarallah Spokesman Mohammad Abdulsalam reaffirmed that British and French warships are on standby on Yemen’s western coast to launch missiles and aerial attacks.

Abdulsalam added that 'the Hodeidah assault is an American-British operation as the aggressor states – Saudi Arabia and the UAE – are not capable of launching such a campaign.'

Suze van Meegen, a protection and advocacy adviser with the Norwegian Refugee Council said Hodeidah is a strategic port city to all Yemenis. 'It should be the source of at least 70 percent of all imports to Yemen,” Meegen reportedly said.

Last year, former UN special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheik, had warned against attacking the port city. This week, Martin Griffiths, the new special envoy to Yemen, echoed the same concern over attacking Hodeidah at the UN Security Council.

According to the United Nations, the impoverished governorate of Al Hodeidah has some of the worst rates of malnutrition and disease in Yemen. One-third of the country’s 400,000 severely malnourished children live in Al Hodeidah Province.

“The biggest contribution the Saudi-led coalition could make to the humanitarian situation and protection of civilians is to immediately halt the offensive and engage in UN-led peace talks,” said Amanda Catanzano, senior director of policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee, in a statement.

“We need that port to stay open at any price,” said Elias Diab, a United Nations official in Hodeidah city. “Closing that port means that you are cutting the last artery to Yemen.”