Houthis cut off internet to 80 per cent of Yemen

The main fibre optic cable that connects users has been severely damaged by the rebels

A Yemeni pro-government fighter fires a heavy machine gun as Emirati supported forces take over Huthi bases on the frontline of Kirsh between the province of Taez and Lahj, southwestern Yemen, on July 1, 2018. The United Arab Emirates on Sunday announced it had halted the offensive it is backing against Huthi rebels in Yemen's port city of Hodeida to give a chance to UN diplomatic efforts.
 / AFP / Saleh Al-OBEIDI
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The Houthi rebels disrupted internet service to almost 80 per cent of Yemen on Thursday after damaging a fibre optic cable while fortifying their defences in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, a telecommunications source said.

Yemeni forces say the rebels have used a military pause from the Arab Coalition  – including Saudi Arabia and the UAE – to strengthen their position ahead of a possible battle for central Hodeidah.

The internet outages came a day after UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths left Sanaa, the Houthi-held capital, after talks with the rebels.

Mr Griffiths was due later Thursday to brief the UN Security Council on his meetings and the prospects for any peace deal.

The internet outage added to already weak communications across Yemen.

"The cable that connects the country to the internet was cut in three places in the districts of Al Kanawes and Al Marawya in Hodeidah as the Houthi militia continues to dig trenches in the area," a source from the Public Telecommunication Corporation told The National.

"Many users all over the country have been affected by this, but we assure our clients that we have dispatched three technician teams to repair the cable. We hope it is resolved as soon as possible."

The Houthis control the internet service in Yemen, but the disruption came as the government launched a new internet company, Aden Net, in the city of Aden, to start providing services, including 4G, at the end of July.

Read more: New UAE-funded internet service in Yemen, government says

"This is a step with the purpose of stopping the Houthi militias' control of the only service provider [at the moment], Yemen Net, in [rebel-held] Sanaa," Lutfi Bashreef, the telecommunications minister, said.

"The rebels impose bans on social media networks and slow down the speed of the already weakened internet service, and this comes amid reports they intend to soon cut off the internet completely to cover their crimes."

Mr Bashreef said that the Iran-backed group is making "more than 100 billion Yemeni rials (Dh1.5m)" from the internet which, he added, go towards a "War Effort" fund.

Abdulbaset Al Faqeeh, of the Aden telecommunication authority, said that Aden Net will be supported by the UAE.

"The new internet company is fully backed by the UAE, and it will a setback for the Houthi militias, who will lose control over the internet in Yemen, along with millions of dollars," he told The National.

"We have already finished connecting the cable from the sea, and this will be considered a new victory for Yemen, which will provide clients with the best possible service."

Hodeidah is a critical lifeline for Yemen.

Earlier this week the Arab Coalition said that the port – the route through which 70 per cent of commercial imports enter the country – was still operating and that a further five ships had docked there on Tuesday, with six others waiting in the vicinity.

Pro-government forces have demanded an unconditional Houthi withdrawal from the port and the city, but so far the Iran-backed rebels have refused, offering only to cede administration of the port.