AL-MUKALLA: Flaring battles in Yemen’s western province of Hodeidah have left dozens of fighters and civilians dead over the past five days, local officials, media reports and residents have said.
Heavy fighting broke out between government forces and Iran-backed Houthis in Hodeidah and in flashpoints in two districts in the province.
The Joint Forces, an umbrella term for three major military units located on the country’s western coast, said in a statement that at least 95 Houthis, including field leaders, were killed or wounded in the fighting as the Yemeni government warned against the collapse of the Stockholm Agreement due to Houthi military escalations in the province.
Two field Houthi commanders identified as Abu Taha Al-Murtadha and Abdul Wahan Mohammed Ali, together with dozens of rebels, were killed in the fighting. Their bodies are still scattered on the battlefields in Durihimi and Hays districts, the Joint Forces said. At least 12 government troops were also killed in the fighting.
Under heavy artillery, tank and mortar fire, Houthis last week marched toward government-controlled areas in Hays and Durihimi, triggering fierce clashes that ended when loyalists pushed them back to their previous territory.
On Saturday and Sunday, the rebels staged heavy attacks on government forces, using explosive-laden drones and heavy weapons, before retreating after suffering heavy fatalities, local army commanders said. An old woman was killed and several others were wounded in the fighting and shelling, official media and an aid organization said.
The eruption of fighting in Hodeidah has prompted international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) into putting its local health facilities on alert to handle a predicted surge in patients.
“Intense fighting has escalated along southern Hodeidah frontlines in Yemen. The MSF team in Mocha Trauma Hospital is engaging mass its casualty plan to respond to influxes of wounded. We are intensely worried for civilians living near the frontline areas,” the group said in a statement, repeating appeals to warring factions to avoid harming civilians.
“In Late 2020, MSF treated a high number of civilians from this front-line area. Civilians must not be targeted or harmed in the conflict.” The MSF surgical hospital in the Red Sea Mocha received 17 wounded civilians in the previous 72 hours, the organization said on Monday.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government has warned that a truce in the province of Hodeidah under the Stockholm Agreement could crumble if Houthi military operations do not stop.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak told Arab News on Monday that a Houthi military escalation would have “negative effects” on the Stockholm Agreement, adding that the Houthis have “proved that they are not serious about peace” and are “stooges for Iran.”
He said: “These are certainly negative messages adding to the crime of bombing the airport. This confirms what we have repeatedly said, that this group has no interest in peace and its decision is not in its hands, but rather in the hands of Tehran.”
Awadh added that Houthis killed a government officer, attacked government forces, obstructed the distribution of humanitarian assistance and launched bomb boat attacks in the Red Sea under the nose of the UN monitoring mission in Hodeidah.
Under the Stockholm Agreement, the Yemeni government stalled a military offensive in Hodeidah city in exchange for a Houthi withdrawal from the city’s seaports and a commitment to end the depositing of revenues into the central bank in Hodeidah.
Both sides agreed to enter a truce under the supervision of UN monitors.
But local rights groups have said that more than 500 civilians have been killed in Hodeidah by Houthi shelling and land mines since late 2018. Last week, Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed appeared in an interview with foreign journalists, saying he “regretted” ending the military offensive in Hodeidah that was about to bring the city under government’s control “within five days.”
The Yemen’s Abductees’ Mothers Association, an all-female rights organization, has accused the Houthis of abducting 95 civilians, including 13 children, during their latest military assault on Haima, northeast of Taiz.
The organization Sunday arranged a small sit-in in the southern city of Taiz to protest against “systematic” raids by Houthis in Haima and the abduction of dozens of civilians.
“We hold the Houthi group responsible for the lives and safety of abducted people and children,” read one poster seen by Arab News.
Col. Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a Yemeni army spokesperson in the city of Taiz, recently told Arab News that Houthis killed 12 civilians, wounded 30 more and raided 63 houses during a recent offensive intended to suppress a rebellion by locals.