KHOKHA (Yemen) • Yemeni government forces fought their way into Hodeida airport yesterday, pressing an offensive that has seen some of the most intense fighting of a three-year war against Houthi Shi'ite rebels.
The United Arab Emirates, which has US-trained troops fighting alongside the Yemeni army, said the alliance had entered the airport in Hodeida, a Red Sea port city that is a key aid hub and the entry point for three-quarters of Yemen's imports.
"With the participation and support of the Emirati armed forces, the joint Yemeni resistance (army) entered Hodeida airport," the UAE state news agency WAM tweeted.
A Yemeni military source confirmed that troops had entered the rebel base at the disused airport on the southern edge of the city.
The battle for Hodeida has sparked fears of a new escalation of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which is already teetering on the brink of famine. The United Nations has warned that any attack on Hodeida port could cripple shipments of desperately needed aid to the 8.4 million Yemenis facing imminent starvation.
Hodeida's residents are now bracing themselves for what they fear will be devastating street fighting, as tanks and buses carrying uniformed troops roll through the empty streets of the once-bustling city.
One resident, who asked not to be identified for fear of arrest, said civilians had been "banned from using their phones to take pictures and are questioned about their movements if they're seen in the streets".
The rebels have also begun to dig trenches in the streets, he said.
Fierce fighting in the Hodeida area has already driven 5,200 families from their homes as pro-government forces advanced up the Red Sea coast, according to the UN.
The coalition launched a major offensive last Wednesday, dubbed Operation Golden Victory, to drive the rebels out of Hodeida, now the most intense battlefront in an already brutal war.
Since Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their regional allies intervened in Yemen in 2015, there have been multiple rounds of UN-brokered peace talks, but they have all failed to achieve any breakthrough.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths, who has been holding talks in the rebel-held capital Sanaa since Saturday, flew out of Sanaa yesterday without making any comment to journalists.