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Battle rages for airport in key Yemen aid hub

23 June 2018

Arab coalition troops stormed the airport in Yemen's main port Hodeidah on Tuesday and captured large areas of the compound in battles with Iran-aligned Houthis, a Yemeni military source, the UAE news agency and local residents said.

According to military sources, more than 250 Houthi fighters were killed and hundreds others were injured in the battle of liberating the airport on Tuesday while 87 Houthis were held captives by the national army and resistance forces.

After almost a month of sporadic clashes between Houthi forces and the coalition, coupled with Hadi's militia, in the volatile province of Hudaydah, the latter two launched a major offensive on June 13 to take the Houthi-held Hudaydah, a densely-populated city and the war-torn country's most vital port, which is the entry point for 70 percent of the impoverished country's imports.

Houthi media has reported dozens of airstrikes across Yemen in the past day, and witnesses and reporters on social media said there were bombardments around the before the coalition forces entered.

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The conflict has since killed almost 10,000 people, majority civilians.

"The airport was completely cleared, Thank God, and is under control", the coalition commander for the Red Sea coast, Abdul Salaam Al-Shehi said speaking in Arabic in the video posted on Twitter.

The coalition held a press conference in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday to display what it said were explosives used by the Huthis in Yemen, including landmines and improvised explosive devices described by one UAE official as "a fraction of what the coalition has seized".

Worldwide humanitarian agencies have warned that an assault on Hodeidah would be a major disaster to the densely populated port city and would block aid supplies to more than 20 million people. However, they said warplanes continued to bombard Houthi positions closer to the city centre, where the rebels have begun to entrench themselves in expectation of fierce street-to-street fighting. "We have humanitarian and development plans for when we liberate the city".

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Kilo 16 is also where the Houthis have deployed the 10th Republican Guards brigade, who have the biggest rebel military base, Mr Al Mashra'ee said. Hodeida is the main entry point for food to Yemen, already on the brink of starvation.

Gargash said the coalition was counting on Martin Griffiths, the United Nations special envoy for Yemen who arrived in Sanaa on Saturday, to broker a Houthi agreement to leave Hodeidah.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, told reporters that Griffiths was going on to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to meet coalition and Yemeni government officials.

Riyadh accuses its regional rival Tehran of supplying the Houthis with ballistic missiles, a charge Iran denies. They say they reflect a popular revolt against state corruption and are protecting the Yemen from foreign invasion.

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Battle rages for airport in key Yemen aid hub