Civilians flee combat zones around Yemen’s Hodeida

Mokha: Clashes between Yemeni government forces and Huthi rebels around the Red Sea port city of Hodeida eased Friday as more civilians fled the combat zones for fear of a fierce showdown, a UN humanitarian agency said.

“More people are fleeing areas of conflict and seeking shelter in safer locations, including in the capital Sanaa,” 150 kilometres (95 miles) to the northeast and also under rebel control, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement.

It said some of the displaced had arrived in the capital but specific figures were not yet available. On Thursday, OCHA said more than 30,000 residents of Hodeida and the province of the same name had fled their homes this month.

The latest violence was “at a less severe scale, as a general decrease in clashes, bombardments and airstrikes has been reported”, said OCHA.

“Humanitarian partners continue to respond to the needs of the displaced population” with the provision of food, water and health services in and around Hodeida, it said.

In the port city itself, however, “access to warehouses has become difficult due to ongoing fighting and blockage of some roads”.

An AFP video journalist said a column of dozens of trucks loaded with Red Cross relief supplies from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was waiting to cross into rebel-held territory from the coastal city of Mokha to the south.

And the UN’s World Food Programme on Friday distributed aid in Hajjah province of northwest Yemen to displaced families from Hodeida, according to an AFP photographer.

The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said he was continuing “consultations with all parties… to avoid a military confrontation in Hodeida and to swiftly return to political negotiations”.

He was “confident that an agreement can be reached to avert any escalation of violence”, his office said in a statement.

According to the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, “cholera is top of the list of concerns right now”, after Hodeida was an epicentre of a cholera outbreak last year.

– UN concerns for food, aid –
Yemeni government forces backed by UAE troops have since June 13 set their sights on recapturing Hodeida from the Shiite Huthi rebels who have vowed to fight to the end. The UN estimates 600,000 people live in and around the city.

The Iran-allied rebels have refused to cede control of Hodeida, the entry point of three quarters of imports to impoverished Yemen.

The Huthis have controlled the port since 2014, when they drove the government out of the capital and seized much of northern Yemen and a string of Red Sea ports.

The battle for Hodeida, which medical sources say has killed at least 374 people, has raised UN concerns for vital aid shipments and food imports through its docks.

The pro-government forces announced the capture of Hodeida airport on Wednesday morning. It had been disused but housed a major rebel base.

Since Saudi Arabia and its allies launched military operations in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government, a total of nearly 10,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians.