SANAA, Nov 8 – Instead of bringing calm to the besieged Yemeni city, calls for a ceasefire in Hodeidah have brought some of the worst violence the vital port has yet faced in the three-year war.
Baseem al-Janani, who lives in the city, said: “The clashes are absolutely crazy right now. I have a headache from the shelling and bombing in the east. People are trapped in their houses for hours at a time because of shrapnel and gunfire. But their houses are not safe either.”
In the past few days, more than 100 airstrikes have hit civilian neighbourhoods – five times as many as in the whole of the first week of October, according to Save the Children staff in Hodeidah. One of their malnutrition clinics was attacked on Wednesday.
Pro-government militias are trying to seize as much ground as possible before fighting is supposed to stop at the end of November, when it is hoped UN-sponsored peace talks will restart in Sweden.
Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates coalition-backed troops are inching closer to the city’s Houthi rebel-held centre from their current stalemate positions in the southern suburbs and at the airport in a three-pronged attack.
On Wednesday, an Emirati-trained group known as the Giants, with the help of Apache attack helicopters, secured a key road leading to Hodeidah’s port.
The Houthis, too, have stepped up operations, resorting to burning tyres to obscure gunships’ view of the city and laying an estimated hundreds of thousands of landmines in anticipation of the coalition attack, codenamed Operation Golden Victory. On Tuesday, fighters raided the city’s May 22 hospital – named for Yemen’s national day – and set up sniper positions on the building’s roof, Janani said.
“We don’t have enough hospitals anyway. The patients and staff are now terrified they will be an airstrike target,” he said.
Hodeidah is Yemen’s lifeline. Before the war broke out in 2015, it handled most imports in a country where 90% of food had to be imported.
The port has been blockaded by the Saudi-led coalition for the past three years, a decision aid organisations say has been the main contributing factor to the famine that threatens to engulf half of Yemen’s 28 million population.
Since a fresh offensive on Hodeidah began in June, civilian deaths have risen by 164%, according to a report by the armed conflict location andevent data project (Acled), and at least 50,000 people have been displaced. Many who would flee are trapped by Houthi roadblocks.
The coalition hopes retaking the city will clear a path to drive the Houthis out of the capital, Sana’a, and end the war. But a full-scale attack has been delayed several times, as the UN and aid agencies warn fighting that damages the port’s facilities could cause catastrophic suffering across the country.
Bhanu Bhatnagar, a spokesperson for Save the Children, said: “Thehunger crisis in Yemen shows no sign of fading as long as the fighting persists.