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Houthis mine Hodeidah port entrances as pro-government offensive pauses

Vital Yemeni facility still working as normal, as attacking forces apparently give civilians and aid workers a moment to flee
Workers unload wheat assistance provided by Unicef from a cargo ship at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah. (AFP)

Houthi rebels have laid landmines around Hodeidah’s vitally important port, its employees said on Wednesday, as the offensive on the Yemeni city slowed.

In the face of a ferocious Saudi-backed pro-government forces offensive, the Houthis have been mining areas across the Red Sea city and its eponymous province.

Three employees at the port, through which the vast majority of food and humanitarian aid enters the country, told the AFP news agency by phone that the rebels had also begun to mine the entrances to the facility.

According to the employees, landmines had been placed near two of the port's gates, one that leads to Jizan Road, a main street in Hodeidah’s north, and the other near the Alsanabel flour mill company.

There is only one entrance left into the port, and that is the main gate that leads to Mina Street that trucks use

- Port employee

"There is only one entrance left into the port, and that is the main gate that leads to Mina Street that trucks use," one employee told AFP.

Maintaining the port’s operations is of great significance for millions of Yemenis, who rely on the food and aid that pass through it to live.

The United Nations has warned that Yemen is on the brink of the worst famine the world has seen for 100 years. Already some 18 million of Yemen’s population of 28 million rely on aid.

Though the pro-government offensive has placed the port’s operations in jeopardy, the United Arab Emirates, a key member of the anti-Houthi coalition, said on Wednesday that services were continuing normally.

“Hodeida quiet & port operating,” Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted.

“We are working closely with the UN on expanding humanitarian assistance for all areas of Yemen. Important work to address people’s needs.”

Relative calm

Wednesday saw a relative calm in Hodeidah, as clashes subsided for a second day in a row.

A pro-government military official told AFP his forces had paused their advance into the city to give civilians, aid workers and the wounded safe passage.

However, another said major attacks will be resumed "in the coming days".

"The battles will not stop, except with the liberation of Hodeidah and the whole west coast," he said.

Forces loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi have made inroads into Hodeidah, in recent days, taking key neighbourhoods and facilities like the city’s main hospital.

More than 150 people, including seven civilians and scores of Houthi fighters, were killed in fighting and Saudi coalition air strikes on Sunday and Monday.

Residents of the city, which has 600,000 residents, say they fear Hodeidah will be besieged.

Just one route out of the city, on its northern edge, remains open to traffic.

The Saudi-led coalition’s conduct in the conflict has come under intense international scrutiny as Yemen is pushed further towards famine.

The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a team of Saudi operatives has also put pressure on Riyadh’s allies such as the United States and Britain to bring the war to an end.