Yemeni troops backed by the Saudi and UAE-led coalition entered the airport compound in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah on Tuesday, June 19 after days of fighting with the Houthi rebels.
“With the participation and support of the Emirati armed forces, the joint Yemeni resistance [army] entered Hodeida airport,” UAE state news agency WAM tweeted on Tuesday.
The forces “stormed the airport” early Tuesday morning while Houthis used tank, artillery and mortar fire to shell the inside, Reuters reported its sources as saying.
Houthi media has reported dozens of airstrikes across Yemen in the past day, and witnesses and reporters on social media said there were bombardments around the before the coalition forces entered.
The Norweigan Refugee Council said on Monday that Houthi fighters were closing all main roads to the city and had completely stopped travel on the main road linking to the capital Sana’a.
Capturing Hodeidah would give the coalition of mostly Gulf states a victory in the battle for the city. Hodeidah has been the main lifeline for humanitarian supplies and other aid into Yemen since the conflict began in 2015, but Riyadh accuses the Houthis of using Hodeidah to smuggle weapons.
Coalition-backed Yemeni forces launched the assault on Hodeidah on June 13 despite attempts by the United Nations to broker a ceasefire.
The UAE has said that an operation can be carried out quickly and that the coalition will keep the port open.
The U.N. has warned that the military operation, called Golden Victory, will threaten tens of thousands of civilians. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Monday that around 26,000 people have sought refuge since the battle began.
Hodeidah handled 70 percent of the nation’s food imports before the war, and periodic Saudi blockades of the port since 2015 have heightened fears of famine in a country where some 22 million people are in need of humanitarian aid.