ADEN (AFP) – Yemeni government forces, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, on Wednesday seized rebel supply routes into the key port city of Hodeida, military sources said, days after UN-brokered peace talks failed.
Hodeida province is a major battleground in the war between Yemen s Saudi-backed government and Huthi rebels linked to Iran, which has been accused of supplying weapons to the insurgents.
Abdulrahman Saleh Abou Zaraa, head of the brigade fighting the Huthis in the province, told AFP his forces had taken the insurgents main supply route linking the port city to rebel-held Sanaa, known as Kilo 16.
The Saudi-backed forces also seized a second supply route around Hodeida, known as Kilo 10, military sources said.
Roads linking the port city to Sanaa — both controlled by the Huthi rebels — are also used for the transport of imports and aid, most of which enter Yemen through the rebel-held Hodeida port.
The Saudi-led coalition accuses the Huthis of smuggling arms from Iran through Hodeida and has imposed a partial blockade on the port, which the rebels seized in 2014.
A military source in the brigade fighting in Hodeida said Wednesday s operation aimed to cut off supplies to the rebels.
The government coalition did not have immediate plans to try to take the city, the source said.
Fierce clashes broke out Wednesday between the Huthis and pro-government forces on the east and south of rebel-held Hodeida city, leaving dozens of fighters dead, according to military and medical sources.
Air strikes on Kilo 16 killed 11 people on Wednesday, seven of them rebel fighters and the rest civilians in a car, according to medical sources in Hodeida.
Rebel TV channel Al-Masirah said air strikes killed seven people and wounded others, without giving further details.
In their first reaction to reports that they had lost control of routes, the Huthis said they foiled an attack near Kilo 16, adding there had been around 50 air strikes.
The United Arab Emirates, a key member of the regional military alliance led by Saudi Arabia, provides extra boots on the ground for Yemeni troops fighting in the south, including in Hodeida province.
In June, the pro-government forces, led by the UAE, launched a major operation to retake both the city and the port of Hodeida.
The troops, backed by coalition states air forces, have retaken a number of towns across Hodeida province but have not yet breached the city.
The coalition in July announced a temporary ceasefire in Hodeida to give a chance to UN-brokered peace talks.
But on September 6, UN attempts to hold talks between Yemen s government and the Huthis were abandoned after the rebels refused to leave Yemen for Geneva.
The Huthis accused the UN of failing to meet their conditions — including a plane to transport their wounded to nearby Oman and a guarantee their delegation would be allowed to return to Sanaa.
The United Nations Yemen envoy, Martin Griffiths, has said he will be travelling to Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia next week in a bid to restart talks between the government and Huthis.
Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the conflict between embattled Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, whose government is recognised by the United Nations, and the Huthis in 2015.
Nearly 10,000 people have since been killed and the country now stands on the brink of famine.
All parties to the Yemen conflict, which the UN calls the world s worst humanitarian crisis, have been accused of violations that may amount to war crimes by a panel of UN investigators.
The panel found the Saudi-led coalition responsible for air strikes that account for most civilian casualties, sparking a denial by Riyadh and its allies.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defended Saudi Arabia and the UAE as taking “demonstrable actions” to protect civilians in a statement to Congress.
The United States is a close ally of Saudi Arabia and provides arms sales, aerial refuelling and intelligence to Riyadh.