The UAE, on Wednesday, called on the international community to pressure the Houthis to abandon the port.
“The international community must pressure the Houthis to evacuate Hodeida & leave the port intact. Their use of land & sea mines shows a cruel & callous disregard for Yemeni lives,” the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a tweet.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, Khalid bin Salman, said the offensive was “critical in light of the growing threat that the Iranian backed Houthi militia poses to the maritime security of the red sea.”
In a series of tweets on Wednesday, he added: “The Houthi’s continued obstruction with regards to Hodeidah is due to their use of the port to raise revenues through looting, extortion, and illegal taxation imposed on commercial ships to finance and sustain their military aggression against Yemen and neighboring countries.”
Thousands of people have died in Yemen’s war. In 2015, Houthi rebels took over large swathes of territory prompting a wide-scale Saudi-led military intervention. The conflict has spiraled into what the UN has dubbed “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
On Monday, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Hodeidah after the UAE asked the United Kingdom to tell aid agencies to leave the port city. The aid agencies were told to evacuate by Tuesday night.
Speaking ahead of Monday’s emergency meeting, called by the UK, Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the UN, said: “The important thing is that (Hodeidah) is kept open and it is kept functioning because it is the major route in for these commercial supplies.”
UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock also warned about the potential consequences of an operation.
“Seven million people are completely reliant every month on food and other assistance from humanitarian organizations so Hodeidah is absolutely central to the preserving of life,” Lowcock said at a press briefing on Monday.
“If for any period, Hodeidah were not to operate effectively, the consequences in humanitarian terms would be catastrophic.”
However, the United States, which previously stood against the offensive, appears to have offered tacit agreement. Officials issued a statement Monday that Yemen analyst Adam Baron described as a “yellow light” for the Yemen offensive.
“I have spoken with Emirati leaders and made clear our desire to address their security concerns while preserving the free flow of humanitarian aid and life-saving commercial imports,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a press statement Monday.
Will the Houthis withdraw?
The offensive risks plunging the country into further violence as the coalition tries to wrest control of the strategic city from the rebels. A coalition takeover would tip the conflict in favor of Saudi Arabia and its allies.
“This offensive represents a huge escalation in the conflict … a lot of it depends on how Hodeidah falls. If the Houthis dig in, this could be a bloody street battle comparable to Aleppo,” Baron, the analyst, said.
But “there is the opportunity for a Houthi withdrawal and for the coalition to force a Houthi retreat,” Baron adds.
“This is something that could be extremely high-risk and could cause a lot of humanitarian disruption … there’s a reason why you’re seeing so much opposition in some quarters.”