A Saudi-led coalition has made no major gains in its offensive to take control of Yemen’s Hodeidah port from the Houthis, leaving it without the decisive increase in leverage it had sought against the group in U.N.-sponsored peace efforts, Euronews said.
The alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched the offensive on the heavily defended Red Sea city on June 12 in the largest battle of the three-year war, which the United Nations fears risks triggering a famine.
The Arab states pledged a swift operation to take over Hodeidah’s air and sea ports, without entering the city centre, seeking to minimize civilian casualties and avoid disruption of the port, a lifeline for millions in the impoverished state where 8.4 million are believed to be on the verge of starvation.
But they have made little progress in the campaign which Riyadh and Abu Dhabi say aims to cut off the Houthis’ main supply line and force the group to the negotiating table.
The coalition announced on June 20 that it had seized Hodeidah airport, but local military and aid sources told Reuters that neither side has complete control of the airport and its surrounding area, which spreads over 20 km (12 miles).
“The coalition never took control of the airport,” Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi told Reuters.
The situation illustrates the daunting challenge faced by the coalition in seeking to take control of Hodeidah port in the absence of a political solution.
The Houthis, who control the most populated areas of Yemen including the capital Sanaa, are adept at guerrilla warfare. Houthi fighters have been harassing UAE-led forces near the airport and on the coastal road that the coalition uses to resupply its forces from military bases on the western coast.
After the UAE announced a halt in military operations to give U.N. mediation efforts a chance, fighting broke out on Friday and Saturday as coalition-backed forces tried to push Houthi fighters further inland to secure the coastal strip south of Hodeidah.
U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths has been shuttling between the warring parties to avert an all-out assault on Hodeidah that the United Nations fears will exacerbate what is already the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis.
The Houthis have offered to hand over management of the port to the United Nations as part of an overall ceasefire in Hodeidah province, according to the United Nations, but the coalition has said that the Houthis must quit the western coast.