ADEN (REUTERS) - Troops backed by a Saudi-led coalition stormed the airport compound of Yemen's main port city Hodeidah on Tuesday (June 19) after fierce battles with Iran-aligned Houthis fighting to defend their sole port, residents and Yemeni military sources said.
The capture of the airport would be an important gain for the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who have said they can seize the heavily defended city quickly enough to avoid interrupting aid to millions facing starvation.
"They have stormed the airport," an anti-Houthi Yemeni military source told Reuters. A resident also said the compound had been stormed. "This is the first time we hear the clashes so clearly. We can hear the sound of artillery and machine-gun fire," the resident, who requested anonymity, told Reuters, adding that warplanes bombarded the airport earlier in the morning.
The Western-backed alliance launched the onslaught on Hodeidah seven days ago in order to turn the tables in a long-stalemated proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has compounded instability across the Middle East. The upsurge in fighting has wounded and displaced dozens of civilians and hampered the work of aid groups in the port city, which is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.
The United Nations says 22 million Yemenis depend on aid, and 8.4 million are on the verge of starvation.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Monday that the coalition was taking a measured approach to minimise risks to civilians, and allowing the Houthis an escape route inland to their bastion in the capital Sanaa.