Yemeni forces, backed by the Saudi led-coalition, are determined, more than ever, to recapture Hodeidah city and its strategic port after being held by Houthis since 2015. The coalition forces are reported to have reached the threshold of the city, only 9 miles away. The ultimate battle for Hodeidah seems imminent!

Hodeidah, located west on the Red Sea, is the fourth largest city in the country with a population of over than 600,000. It also hosts one of the most vital ports for the whole of Yemen where 70 percent of the country’s imports and aid shipments flow – adequate reason to raise fear and concerns both internally among Yemeni people and in the international community.

The significance of Hodeidah for the fighting blocks

The focal point of the Yemeni war is apparently shifting towards Hodaeidah and the battle’s final results may determine the overall course of the three-year long conflict. The retaking of the city, on the part of the coalition, would handlock Houthis and would open the route of the battle towards the capital Sanaa, a day’s drive from the port city. The port is claimed to be the entry point for Houthis’ weaponry which Saudi Arabia accuses Iran to supply. “Our goal is to cut the vein that the Houthis are benefiting from in their war effort,” coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki told reporters in Riyadh.

For the set objective, the Saudi led-coalition is seeking US support in the battle to seize Hodeidah, and UAE reportedly approached Washington with the request.

US is mulling UAE’s plea, but had warned of assaulting the city’s port.

The Looming Humanitarian Catastrophe

Hodeidah’s port is one of the remaining frontlines for humanitarian aids and any assault on it could bring forth an inevitable famine!

Soon after being seized by Houthis in 2015, Saudi Arabia and UAE imposed a blockade over port city. In 2017, the blockade escalated into a total sealing off of the Hodeidah’s port, following the Houthis’ missile that landed near Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. Saudi Arabia and UAE then accused their Shiite rival, Iran, of making use of the port to smuggle in arms and ballistic missiles to their Shiite allies.

The total blockade forced over 3 million Yemeni to the edge of hunger; the act that created deep discontent in the international community and human rights bodies and under their pressure the coalition agreed to reopen the port.

Now as the fighting intensifies in Hodeidah, with the coalition backed-forces managing to retake the city, human rights voices regain their warning of inevitable humanitarian catastrophe, in case the port is assaulted.

“Hodeidah is essentially a lifeline for millions of struggling Yemenis. Twenty-two million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, and the goods and the fuel and the medicine that comes through Hodeidah is a lifeline for those people,” said Daniel Gorevan, the spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The same concern expressed by the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR) who warned that escalating the fight in Hodeidah may turn extremely harmful for the city’s infrastructure, mainly its port which the lives of millions of Yemenis depend on.

“The key question is: how is the battle going to be fought? The port is vital for Yemenis across the country. There could potentially be massive destruction of the city’s facilities. People are worried about how long the port might be out of action and how long it could take to rebuild,”said Adam Baron, a visiting fellow with the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR).

On his part, Martin Griffiths, the UN’s special envoy to Yemen, warned that striking the port would hinder any possible diplomatic solution.

The Saudi led-coalition is betting on military force to retake Hodeidah and open the path for recapturing other Houthi-held cities and regions, especially Sanaa, or at least force the Houthis to compromise. But analysts see that the attack -should it take place- will conversely add to the group’s inflexibility and consolidate the hardliners. This view seems tangible given the late statements of Houthi leaders who vowed to continue the resistance and that “Yemeni people will not abandon their land”. They also promised to turn the West Coast into “a graveyard for invaders and mercenaries”.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis have been fleeing Hodeidad as fighting intensifies in the frontlines, according to Amnesty International.

Many humanitarian aid bodies began to evacuate their staff off Hodeidadh. The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) said it had pulled 71 staff members out of Yemen, calling on all fighting sides to provide security guarantees so that it can keep on its humanitarian mission of running surgical, water and food assistance programs.

Since Saudi Arabia and UAE militarily intervened in Yemen to restore the exiled government, the war has claimed 10,000 lives, mostly old civilians and children. The war exacerbated the already fragile situation of the poor country, bringing it to the epicenter of famine. UN labeled Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with over 22.2 million people in dire need of humanitarian aid.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Inside Arabia.