Houthis suffer casualties as battle for Hodeidah rages

hutiAt least 149 Yemenis, including seven civilians, have been killed in the past 24 hours as forces loyal to exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi close in on areas held by Houthi rebels in the strategic port city of Hodeidah.

Medics in hospitals across the city – which is the main gateway for imports and relief supplies into Yemen – said on Monday that 110 Houthi fighters and 32 pro-government soldiers had been killed in overnight fighting.

Sources at the Al-Alfi military hospital, seized by the Houthis during their 2014 takeover of the city, said charred body parts had been delivered there overnight.

Meanwhile, a military official in Hodeidah told the AFP news agency that seven civilians had died in clashes without giving further details.

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from neighbouring Djibouti, said fighting was raging in eastern and southern areas of Hodeidah city.

“Some of the fighting is on the streets of residential areas, something that is causing concern about the safety and welfare of the people still holed up in the city,” Adow said.

“There are people stuck there who could not find ways of leaving because of the blocked roads and many checkpoints set up by Houthi fighters,” he added.

The renewed fighting comes as a new round of peace talks to end the war, which has killed more than 56,000 people according to a recent estimate, was pushed back to late December after it was scheduled to take place in Sweden in November.

‘Catastrophic’ situation

Bessma Momani, a professor of political science at Canada’s University of Waterloo said the Saudi-UAE military alliance was trying to take control of Hodeidah ahead of the summit.

“I think that’s the strategy overall, but of course it comes at an enormous cost for civilians,” Momani told.

“It’s important to point out, 80 percent of all food come through Hodeidah – it is food scarcity and famine that we should be worried about because this is the cost that will be paid by the average civilian for the retaking of Hodeidah.”

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the destruction of the vital Yemeni port of Hodeidah could trigger a “catastrophic” situation.

“If the port at Hodeidah is destroyed, that could create an absolutely catastrophic situation,” Guterres told France Info radio during a trip to Paris.

Hodeidah, a large city on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, is the latest battleground between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-UAE alliance which has been fighting for control over the country for the past three and a half years.

Since November 1, there have been more than 200 air attacks reported in the city, with the AFP news agency reporting nearly 600 deaths.

Aid agencies have long warned that fighting in Hodeidah risks escalating the country’s dire humanitarian crisis.

‘Enormous cost for civilians’

Momani added that, following the killing of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, elements within the US may press for sanctions on weapons sales to the kingdom.

“Now that we have seen the Democrats take over the House of Representatives, one part of the legislature, we are going to see a lot of ugly facts against this war – logistics, intelligence, training – you name it.”

“We have to find a way to solve this because really the Yemeni people have suffered far too much,” she said.

The conflict in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, began when the government slashed fuel subsidies in the summer of 2014, prompting angry protests and forcing thousands onto the capital’s streets.

The Houthis seized the opportunity and marched south from their stronghold of Saada province to Sanaa, where they toppled President Hadi’s government.

Concerned by the rise of the Houthis, a US-backed Saudi-UAE military coalition intervened in 2015 with a massive air campaign aimed at reinstalling Hadi’s government.

Since then, data collected by Al Jazeera and the Yemen Data Project has found that more than 18,000 air attacks have been carried out in Yemen, with almost one-third of all bombing missions striking non-military sites.

Weddings, funerals, schools and hospitals, as well as water and electricity plants, have been targeted, killing and wounding thousands.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES