Yemen crisis: How the battle at Hodeida port played out over 2018

Yemen crisis: How the battle at Hodeida port played out over 2018
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By Emma BeswickSallyann Nicholls
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The lifeline port of Hodeida has been at the centre of the ongoing Yemeni war this year — here are the key events.

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The lifeline port of Hodeida has been at the centre of the bitter Yemeni war this year, crippled by both ground combat and airstrikes.

The Saudi-led coalition said Tehran-backed Houthi rebels have been using the port to ship in Iranian arms, something they deny. 

Hodeida is a vital route for food, medicines and other essential goods — 70% of people in Yemen rely on the port to receive such supplies, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Red Sea port city is particularly important as Yemen is dealing with famine and disease of biblical proportions, United Nations estimates show.

Here are the key events in the battle for Hodeida this year. 

May: All-out assault on the port from government forces

Forces supporting the recognised pro-Yemeni government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi were planning an all-out assault on Hodeida to thwart the rebels in May.

Troops were 13 kilometres from the rebel-held city but needed time to prepare for a "swift takeover with minimal casualties", according to Ahmed al-Kawkabani, who leads a force known as Tohama Brigade.

As fighting escalated, many of the port town's residents fled, leaving the streets deserted.

By this stage, the war had killed more than 10,000 people and displaced three million.

Fighters loyal to Yemen's exiled government firing machine guns mounted on trucks at Houthi positions.

June: WHO expresses concern about fighting in Hodeida

"This fighting ... puts more than 600,000 people at risk in Al-Hodeida," Jennie Musto, Incident Manager of the World Health Organization in Yemen, said in June.

"Particularly important for the WHO is that this port is where we bring in important medical supplies," she said.

As violence in the area escalated in summer, there were proposals to put Hodeida under UN supervision.

July: UN special envoy arrives in Yemen

UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffith, arrived there July, aiming to avoid an all-out assault on Hodeida.

He told the Security Council about his proposals to restart political negotiations to end the conflict in Yemen via video from Sanaa.

Griffith spoke of his optimism after meeting with the top leader of the Houthi rebels in a bid to end the country's devastating civil war.

August: Suspected cases of cholera triple in Hodeida since June

Health centres supported by Save the Children recorded an increase from 497 suspected cases in June to 1,342 in August in the governate.

As many as 30% of all suspected cases were in children aged under five, according to WHO.

October: Battle for the port intensifies again

The Saudi-led coalition launched several air strikes against Houthi positions in Hodeida within a few days to help pro-government fighters advance, forcing tens of thousands more residents to flee.

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November: Assault escalates further

Government backed-troops launched a major ground offensive to extract remaining rebels in November — they pounded the city with airstrikes and naval artillery.

It came despite calls from US President Donald Trump's administration for a ceasefire by late November.

December: A ceasefire is agreed

Yemen's warring factions agreed to implement a ceasefire in the Red Sea port city in early December, according to the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

While fighting initially continued between Shiite rebels and forces loyal to the Yemen government in southern and eastern parts of Hodeida, the conflict appeared to largely stop at the port later that month.

What now?

Ceasefire in Hodeida remains shaky, with sporadic clashes erupting last on December 26 as a UN-led monitoring team was set to meet for the first time, according to an AFP correspondent.

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Both sides have accused each other of ceasefire violations.

The truce-monitoring team aims to ensure the lifeline port remains functional and supervise the withdrawal of fighters from the city.

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