Yemen’s army and its allies have seized control of two key roads near the western port city of Hodeidah from Houthi rebels, military sources said.
Abdulrahman Saleh Abou Zaraa, head of an elite military unit known as the Giant Brigades, said on Wednesday his forces took control of the Kilo 16 area, cutting off the Houthis’ main supply route linking Hodeidah city to the rebel-held capital Sanaa.
The army also captured a second supply route around Hodeidah, known as Kilo 10, the AFP news agency reported.
The Saudi-Emirati-led military coalition resumed air raids on Wednesday in support of Yemeni-allied forces seeking to capture the Red Sea port city from the rebels, residents said.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from neighbouring Djibouti, said fighting was ongoing around Kilo 16 with the “Houthis shelling the area in a counterattack measure”.
“There are no reports of any casualties but you would bet they would be high with this intensity of the bombardment,” he said.
Fighting near Hodeidah – the main gateway for imports of relief supplies and commercial goods into the country – has escalated since June 13 after the Saudi-UAE alliance launched a wide-ranging operation to retake the strategic seaport.
The offensive is being carried out by a disparate collective of forces including the National Resistance, a group of fighters loyal to Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Tihama Resistance, a group of fighters loyal to Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and the Giant Brigades, a military unit backed by the United Arab Emirates.
Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see Hodeidah port as the main entry point of weapons for the Houthis and have accused their regional rival Iran of sending missiles to the rebels, a charge Tehran has denied.
Lifeline for millions
Aid agencies have warned an assault on the Hodeidah port could shut down one of the last remaining lifelines for millions of hungry civilians.
The city’s seaport was responsible for delivering 70 percent of Yemen’s imports – mostly humanitarian aid, food and fuel – before 2015.
More than eight million Yemenis – a number greater than the entire population of Switzerland – are on the verge of famine.
The war in Yemen, the region’s poorest country, started in 2014 when the Houthis overran much of the country, including Sanaa.
The conflict escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab allies – who accuse the Shia Houthis of serving as Iranian proxies – launched a massive air campaign in Yemen aimed at rolling back Houthi gains.
According to the UN, at least 10,000 people have been killed since the coalition intervened in Yemen. The death toll has not been updated in years and is likely to be far higher.
Multiple rounds of UN-brokered peace talks have failed to achieve any breakthrough and last week, the Houthis refused to attend talks in Geneva after three of its “demands” were not met.
“The Houthi no-show at the Geneva peace process is further proof that the liberation of Hodeidah is what is needed to bring them to their senses & constructively engage in the political process,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in Twitter post.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths is travelling to Muscat on Wednesday and later Sanaa and Riyadh to secure “a firm commitment from the parties to convene for continued consultations”.
Meanwhile, in Washington DC, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that he has certified to Congress that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were working “to reduce the risk of harm” on Yemeni civilians. With the certification, the US would be able to continue its participation in the war, allowing it to refuel Saudi planes involved in the strikes in Yemen.