by Murad Abdu
ADEN, Yemen, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) — Forces loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni government on Saturday continued heavy clashes and pushed deeper toward the strategic Red Sea port city of Hodeidah following several days of ferocious fighting with the Houthi rebels.
Air-covered by warplanes of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, the pro-government forces largely advanced on-ground and managed to enter a number of neighborhoods in Hodeidah after expelling the Houthi rebels.
A pro-government army officer told Xinhua by phone that the government forces achieved significant gains despite the ferocious street fighting that is still taking place with Houthi fighters inside Hodeidah.
“The government forces are planning to surround the whole city from all the directions in the next hours and only 5 kilometers are left to reach the city’s port,” the army source said.
He said that the government forces seized the May 22 hospital and closely approached from the old neighborhoods of Hodeidah, where many Houthi fighters are holed up inside.
“The Houthis keep withdrawing back into populated areas and it looks like the major battle will be in the heart of Hodeidah city soon,” he added.
Residents in Hodeidah secretly started forming resistance battalions to unleash internal attacks against Houthis and facilitate the progress of government forces, a military official told Xinhua.
The military official, who asked to remain anonymous, said that “armed resistance is expected to intensify against Houthis from the inside of Hodeidah through conducting simple operations in coordination with the government forces.”
In response, the Houthi fighters tightened the security measures and arrested scores of innocent citizens after declaring a state of emergency in the city, the official said.
A few days ago, the Saudi-backed Yemeni government urged people in Hodeidah to join the armed forces and receive adequate military training in order to secure their city later after kicking out the Houthis.
Hundreds of Hodeidah-based young men were recruited and formed elite military battalions under direct supervision from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) forces operating as part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, according to local sources.
In the southern port city of Aden, Yemen’s newly-appointed Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik chaired a meeting with Hodeidah’s governor and other officials to discuss the latest developments in the city.
The prime minister pointed out that “the Houthi militants are still hiding themselves inside residential areas and carry out artillery bombardment against government-controlled areas from there.”
The prime minister praised the great progress made by the government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition in Hodeidah particularly after expelling the Houthis who stormed a hospital filled with patients in the city, according to state-run Saba news agency.
Meanwhile, the official spokesman for the Iranian-backed Houthi group Mohammed Abdul-Salam dismissed the government reports talking about making on-ground progress against the rebels in Hodeidah’s fighting.
The spokesman said in a tweet “the aggression forces and their mercenaries failed to achieve any of their goals due to the exemplary steadfastness of the Yemeni people.”
“Our people, with their full-scale defense of Hodeidah, once again have proved that Yemen will be a graveyard for the aggression forces,” Abdul-Salam said in Twitter.
Observers based in Aden said that recapturing Hodeidah from the Houthis will positively lead to the success of any upcoming negotiations between the two warring rivals.
The Houthis will be more obliged to attend the next talks and accept political solutions after receiving the biggest blow and losing the strategic port city of Hodeidah, according to the observers.
Hodeidah is the most important and only point of entry for food and basic supplies to Yemen’s northern provinces controlled by Houthis, including the capital Sanaa.
The Yemeni government is seeking to expel Houthi rebels out of Hodeidah in recent days despite warnings by international humanitarian agencies.
The impoverished Arab country has been locked into a civil war since the Houthi rebels overran much of the country militarily and seized all northern provinces, including the capital Sanaa, in 2014.
Saudi Arabia is leading an Arab military coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 to support the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after Houthi rebels forced him into exile.
The United Nations has listed Yemen as the country with the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with seven million Yemenis on the brink of famine and cholera causing more than 2,000 deaths.