'We are waiting for death': Despite calls for peace, battles rage anew in Yemen
TAIZ, Yemen - Forces backing exiled Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi have been advancing towards Hodeidah’s seaport since Friday, with ongoing battles taking place some five kilometres from the coveted port on Monday afternoon.
Pro-Hadi forces, backed by the Saudi-led international coalition, announced the beginning of two military operations against Houthi rebels on Friday - one in Hodeidah on the western coast, and another in Saada in northwestern Yemen.
The pro-Hadi forces’ most significant advances in the past four days have taken place in Hodeidah.
A determined offensive
"We launched the attack after military troops and military vehicles arrived in Hodeidah," a pro-Hadi field commander currently based in Hodeidah told Middle East Eye on condition of anonymity. "We received orders from the military leadership to attack Hodeidah in coordination with Saudi-led air strikes; They have been playing a main role in the advances.
"We advanced in several areas and recaptured the main gate between Hodeidah and Sanaa, which is called 'the Arch of Victory', and clashes are ongoing in the other direction towards Al-Sham Road," the commander said.
Dozens of Saudi-led air strikes have hit several areas of Hodeidah since Friday, with warplanes hovering above the city at all times, as residents told MEE that they did not dare to leave their homes.
Al-Sham Road, located close to the port, is the last road connecting Hodeidah city to other provinces. If pro-Hadi forces block it off, Houthis will find themselves fully besieged inside the city.
We are waiting for death inside our homes
- Nashwan Mahboub, resident of Hodeidah
"We have a well-prepared plan to recapture the seaport and we are advancing according to that plan, that I will not reveal due to security concerns," the commander added.
Hodeidah’s port is of strategic importance as the entry point for three-quarters of imports to the impoverished country, which is struggling with increasingly widespread famine.
The pro-Hadi commander claimed that more than 100 Houthi rebels and dozens of pro-government fighters had been killed in recent days.
Houthi landmines continue to prove a deadly obstacle for pro-government ground forces, as has been the case since the beginning of the offensive on Hodeidah in June - although pro-Hadi forces have reportedly dismantled a large number of them in the most recent offensive.
"The landmines hinder our advance towards the seaport, but they cannot stop the advancement," the commander said.
According to an online statement by Houthi leader and member of the Houthi political and consultative councils, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, on Sunday night, "Air strikes are still targeting Hodeidah and more than 80 air strikes targeted the Kilo 16 area and the 50-Metre Street in the last few hours."
Bukhaiti said Houthi forces destroyed 20 military vehicles belonging to pro-Hadi forces, including 15 armoured vehicles.
Since the beginning of the recent escalation, the residents of the conflict zones in Hodeidah have been stuck at home as bullets, shelling and shrapnel from air strikes can be heard outside.
"Food and the water are going to run out, the shrapnel of air strikes and shelling lands in our neighbourhood, the children do not sleep well,” said Nashwan Mahboub, a resident of Hodeidah’s Ghulail neighbourhood. "There are only minutes between the air strikes and the battles have not halted since Friday.
“We have only two hard choices: either to flee amid battle or to stay under war," he told MEE. “We are waiting for death inside our homes."
With internet unavailable inside Hodeidah, most residents are unaware of the broader developments in the fighting.
"Some neighbours tried to flee amid the battles and they were targeted,” Mahboub said. “So I prefer to stay in my house until the battles are halted or until organisations intervene to help us."
He appealed to NGOs to intervene and evacuate civilians from the war zones.
We are witnessing the talks of Kalashnikovs rather than peace talks
- Hamdi Taha, Hodeidah resident
Many residents of July 7th Street, al-Rabasah, Ghulail and University neighbourhoods have fled their homes before the recent onslaught, but impoverished residents have had no choice but to stay put.
"The movement is almost completely halted in the whole city as companies and other institutions have given their employees open-ended leave until further notice," Mahboub said.
‘Kalashnikov talks instead of peace talks’
The military escalation in several provinces comes amid international calls for peace in Yemen. The US government called on Tuesday for an end to the conflict in Yemen, backing UN-led efforts to find a political solution to the war.
Last month, an independent research group estimated that the death toll for the nearly four-year war stood at at least 56,000, a tally that is more than five times higher than previously reported.
However, the new number did not take into account the Yemenis who have died as a result of the humanitarian crisis engulfing the country and its related problems, such as diseases and malnutrition.
Despite the renewed calls for a negotiated solution, fighting has intensified in several provinces since Friday, including Hodeidah, Hajja, al-Baidha, Saadah and al-Dhale, with pro-Hadi forces advancing in all these provinces.
Hodeidah city resident Hamdi Taha said he had no faith in the new calls for peace because he did not trust either rebels or pro-government factions.
"The warring sides in Yemen do not want a peaceful solution and several talks have failed because they do not want a peaceful solution," Taha told MEE. "The warring sides’ reactions to calls for peace talks have come very quickly and we have been witnessing the fiercest battles in several provinces.
“We are witnessing the talks of Kalashnikovs rather than peace talks."
Taha said he and many Yemenis did not care who won the war, and were only hoping for their lives to return to how they were before the conflict.
"We do not care who will be in control, we just want the international community to pressure the warring sides to stop."