UN demands ceasefire after major Houthi offensive in Yemen

Ceasefire monitors request access to contested territory near the vital port of Hodeidah

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 21, 2019, a fighter loyal to Yemen's Huthi rebels mans a machine gun in the back of a pickup truck during a tribal meeting in the Huthi-held capital Sanaa, as tribes donate rations and funds to fighters loyal to the Huthis along the fronts. Yemen's Huthis were defiant after the United States moved to brand the Iran-backed rebels as terrorists, a last-minute move in defiance of aid groups who fear it will tip the country into famine. Unless Congress blocks the decision, the blacklisting will take effect on January 19, one day before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, whose aides had hoped to mount a fresh push to end Yemen's devastating six-year-old war. / AFP / MOHAMMED HUWAIS

The UN mission in Yemen is calling for an immediate ceasefire after heavy fighting between Iran-backed Houthi militias and Yemeni government forces.

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The safety and security of the local population remains of paramount importance

Heavy clashes took place in eastern and southern Hodeidah, western Yemen, according to the United Nations Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement.

In a press release sent to The National from its press office, the mission said it had received disturbing reports of a significant increase in clashes in parts of the Hodeidah governorate in recent days, particularly in Hays and Al Duraihimi.

The head of the UN mission and chairman of the redeployment co-ordination committee, retired Lt Gen Abhijit Guha, said the new Houthi offensive was contrary to the obligations of the parties to the ceasefire, and the resulting casualties to civilians are unacceptable.

"The safety and security of the local population remains of paramount importance and is the essential reason behind the ceasefire agreement. We will be doing everything possible to remind both parties of their obligations under the Hodeidah Agreement and international humanitarian law. I urge them to stop this escalation before it causes any further harm to civilians," Lt Gen Guha said.

The statement emphasised that both parties must “enable UNMHA teams to visit locations of concern, including heavily-contested areas and sites of recent significant incidents”.

On the ground, fierce confrontations in the district of Hays in southern Hodeidah continued over the past couple of days, resulting in civilian casualties.

"Yesterday a woman and a child were injured,," Faisal Durami, a resident of Hays, said.

"The day before, an elderly woman was killed when a Houthi sniper shot at her house in Beit Maghazi village, in western Hays, south Hodeidah."

The Houthi militias have been arbitrarily shelling the city for more than three days, Mr Durami said.

"The indiscriminate shelling caused tremendous fear among the residents. Nobody dares to flee the city because the Houthis have been sending reinforcements and they target anything moving before them,” he said.

On the ground, the Joint Forces Command announced on Monday that senior Houthi field commanders were killed in clashes with Coalition troops in Hays and Al Duraihimi in the past three days.

“Dozens of Houthi fighters were killed in confrontations with our forces, among them Abdulwahab Mohammed Badriddin Al Houthi, a senior Houthi commander close to Abdulmalik Al Houthi, the most senior leader of the Houthis,” said Aseel Al Sakladi, a spokesperson for the government’s Al Amalika Brigade.

“Our forces also killed Abu Taha Al Murtadha, the commander of the Rapid Action Force of the Houthi militias in Hodeidah,” he said.

In Al Duraihimi, fierce clashes between Houthi militias and the Joint Forces continued on Monday.

A Yemeni men walks among graves of men said to be killed in the country’s ongoing war, at a cemetery in the Yemeni Red Sea city of Hodeida, on January 18, 2021. Some 150 Yemeni pro-government soldiers and Huthi rebels have been killed in a week of fighting south of the strategic port city of Hodeida, military sources said today. / AFP / STR

A source from the Joint Forces based on the front lines said Houthi militias attacked their positions in eastern Al Duraihimi city.

“They heavily pounded our sites using drones and mortars, attempting to advance to extract corpses of their fighters. One commander and four soldiers from our forces were killed in the bombardment,” the military source said.

Fighting around Ad Durayhimi forced villagers near the front lines to flee their homes as mortars hit Wadi Al Roman and Dakhnan, to the east of Hodeidah.

The port at Hodeidah is a lifeline for food and aid to millions in northern Yemen, and was threatened with destruction by Houthis when the government appeared ready to take the city, in a months-long offensive in 2018.

Fighting paused to allow time for peace talks in Sweden. While a deal was brokered and both sides have pulled back, the terms of the agreement have not been honoured.

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