Clashes erupt in Yemen as pro-coalition forces cede ground to Houthis

Yemen’s warring sides clashed south of the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah late Saturday after Iranian-backed Houthi fighters moved into territory ceded by forces allied to a Saudi-led coalition. military sources and witnesses said.

Yemeni forces backed by the UAE had announced on Friday that they were being reassigned from around Yemen’s main port in the west, a move that a UN monitoring mission and the government said they had no advance notice of. .

The Saudi-backed government and the Iranian-aligned Houthis, who control the city of Hodeidah, agreed in 2018 to a United Nations-sponsored pact for a truce in Hodeidah that was largely maintained and a troop withdrawal from both sides, stagnant since 2019.

Coalition warplanes launched airstrikes in the Al Faza area south of Hodeidah as Houthi fighters fought UAE-backed forces until midnight, two military and resident sources said.

Al Faza is 15 km (9 miles) from the coalition-controlled Al-Khokha, where hundreds of Yemenis have fled after the Houthis advanced.

A view of a fighting-damaged building is seen outside the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, on November 13, 2021. (Credit: REUTERS / MANAL QAED)

A UN mission overseeing the Hodeidah pact, UNMHA, on Saturday urged both sides to guarantee the safety of civilians, saying they were “not informed in advance of the movements.”

The internationally recognized UNMHA government team said in a statement that it also had no prior knowledge and warned that the Houthis’ advances would be “a flagrant violation” of the pact.

It was unclear whether the withdrawal in Hodeidah was related to what the Saudi-led alliance had described as a redeployment in southern Yemen, where sources said the Saudi military had abandoned the main base in Aden, the interim headquarters of the government.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, in an interview with France 24 TV on Saturday, reiterated a coalition denial that the Saudi military withdrew, saying that “there remains strong support for the Yemeni government and forces ( of the coalition) “.

The alliance intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis drove the government out of the capital, Sanaa. The conflict is seen as an indirect war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.

Washington is pressuring Riyadh to lift a coalition blockade on Houthi-controlled ports, a condition of the group for ceasefire talks.

Hodeidah is the main entry point for commercial goods and aid flows and a lifeline for millions of people facing hunger in what the UN describes as the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.

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