Saudi-led alliance pounds Hudaydah during Eid prayer

Press TV – Warplanes of the Saudi-led coalition have bombed coastal areas southeast of the Yemeni port city of Hudaydah as local residents congregated for the Eid al-Fitr prayers marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan in an open area early Friday morning.

“Many warplanes were flying low over the city during the prayers,” a local resident said, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, reports suggest troops loyal to Yemen’s former government, under the leadership of the United Arab Emirates, are closing in on the Hudaydah airport.

The Saudi-backed coalition is trying to capture the port city in its yet heaviest assault on the country in more than three years. The offensive threatens to cut the lifeline to millions of Yemeni people already struggling with an acute shortage of vital supplies.

The coalition’s warplanes and warships were reported to have intensified the bombardment campaign on Hudaydah on the second day of the offensive. Helicopter gunships bombed a strip of coastal territory near the airport, causing the civilian population to flee in panic on Thursday.

“The fighting is getting close to the al-Manzar area near the airport and people are fleeing in fear,” said Mohammed Abdullah, an official with the Houthi Ansarullah movement, which has been defending the country against the Saudi-led alliance. “My family left for Sana’a yesterday but I stayed behind alone to protect our home from looters,” he added.

The Saudi-led alliance has been pounding the Arab world’s most impoverished nation since March 2015 to restore its former Saudi-friendly government.

The bulk of the country’s imports passes through Hudaydah and the alliance is intent on capturing the port city in the hope of tilting the balance against the Houthis.

Also, coalition warplanes have been heavily pounding the main road linking Hudaydah to Sana’a, in an apparent attempt to block supplies from reaching Houthis who are in control of the capital city.

Saudi-led forces near airport

The Saudi-backed troops are said to have approached the Hudaydah airport and according to Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television they are only meters away.

Saudi-backed militants, who are contributing to the offensive on the ground, were said to have taken control of the al-Durayhmi, a rural area about 10 kilometers south of Hudyadah.

Saudi-backed forces gesture as they arrive in the al-Durayhimi rural area, south of al-Hudaydah’s International Airport, June 13, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Also on Thursday, AFP reported that around 40 people – on both sides – had died during clashes near the airport.

UNSC urges port to remain open

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council on Thursday rejected a call by Sweden, a non-permanent member, for a freeze to the military operations to allow time for talks on Houthis’ “withdrawal” from the port, AFP said.

Council members, however, expressed their “deep concern about the risks to the humanitarian situation” and called for the port to remain open, said Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who holds the council’s presidency.

Yemen’s Health Ministry says around 600,000 people have either died or been injured since the start of the war. The country has also been brought to the edge of famine driven by an all-out Saudi-led blockade of its other land and sea terminals.

Rights organizations have been criticizing several Western states including the US and Britain for providing arms to Saudi Arabia and its allies during the course of the war. The US is believed to be providing the coalition with bombing coordinates and aerial refueling and has already deployed a commando force near Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen to destroy the Houthis’ arms caches.

On Tuesday, a day before the assault on Hudaydah started, The Wall Street Journal said the US was “deepening” its role in the offensive.

“The US military is providing its [Persian] Gulf allies with intelligence to fine-tune their list of airstrike targets in Yemen’s most important port, one sign of the Trump administration’s deepening role in a looming assault that the United Nations says could trigger a massive humanitarian crisis,” the paper wrote.

However, an unnamed UAE official told Reuters that the US had rejected the country’s request to provide military support for the offensive. The support, the official added, included providing surveillance, minesweeping and airborne intelligence operations.The official, meanwhile, said that France had agreed to provide minesweeping support.

Speaking on Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Galloway said Washington “does not command, accompany, or participate in counter-Houthi operations.”

He, however, acknowledged the US role in providing intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition. “Our support to the coalition consists of aerial refueling to coalition aircraft and intelligence support to assist our partners in securing their borders from cross-border attacks from the Houthis,” he said.