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Saudi Arabia takes over Yemen Red Sea ports after UAE troop withdrawal: Report

Saudi officers have taken command of al-Mokha and al-Khokha bases as Emirati forces draw down, Reuters reports
The UAE dispatched its first ground brigade in Yemen in August 2015 (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia's military has taken over the command of two strategic Red Sea ports in Yemen, as the Gulf kingdom moves to fill the void left by its leading ally in the war-torn country, the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi officers took command of military bases at the ports of al-Mokha and al-Khokha, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing two Yemeni military commanders and two Yemeni government officials.

The move comes after the UAE announced plans to draw down its forces in Yemen, where it has waged a devastating military campaign alongside Saudi Arabia since 2015 to root out the country's Houthi rebels.

The base takeover marks Riyadh's first major action since Abu Dhabi's announcement.

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Emirati forces had used the Red Sea bases to monitor the Yemeni coast and back their campaign in nearby Hodeidah.

The battle over Hodeidah, which is held by the Houthis, has been a centrepoint in the Saudi-led coalition's campaign to retake key areas of Yemen from the rebels.

A ceasefire was reached in the city after UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden late last year.

The spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition and the UAE government did not respond to requests for comment, Reuters said.

The news agency also said Riyadh has sent troops to Yemen's southern port city of Aden and Perim Island, which is located in the Bab el-Mandeb strait between Yemen, Djibouti and Eritrea.

The redeployment also comes amid escalating tensions in the Gulf between Iran and the United States, which earlier this week said it planned to form a military coalition to patrol key shipping channels in the area - including Bab el-Mandeb.

Increased tensions

The UAE has insisted that it is not leaving a vacuum as it draws down its forces in Yemen, saying tens of thousands of UAE-backed fighters remain in the country.

But the withdrawal has increased tensions between militias supported by the Emiratis, and forces loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The UAE also discussed its troop redeployment with Riyadh, an Emirati official told Reuters.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have faced widespread criticism over their role in the war in Yemen, which has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

Earlier this week, Save the Children said that suspected cholera cases have increased dramatically, with the number of cases recorded in the first half of 2019 already surpassing last year's total.

At least 193 children died of cholera-related illnesses in 2019, the group said.

"Disease outbreaks are now rife due to the collapse of the health system and weak sanitation systems and a population made increasingly vulnerable by forced displacement and malnutrition," said Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children's Yemen country director.