Saudi-led coalition airstrikes killed eight Yemeni Houthi rebels near the port of Hodeidah on Monday, November 25, triggering fierce battles around the flashpoint city, local officials said.
The new escalation threatens a fragile truce in the Red Sea city that was reached after United Nations-brokered peace talks in Sweden late last year.
Several more rebels were wounded in Monday’s raids that targeted military positions of the Iran-backed Houthis north of Hodeidah, two local officials told AFP.
Clashes erupted several hours later between Yemeni government forces and the Houthis in Hodeidah’s eastern and southern outskirts.
An AFP correspondent reported the use of heavy artillery and a resident south of Hodeidah also told AFP by phone that “we have been hearing artillery shelling since the early hours of Monday.”
The Saudis intervened in Yemen in 2015 at the head of a military coalition against the Houthi rebels, who had seized control of the capital Sana’a.
Since then, tens of thousands have died in the conflict, most of them civilians, and millions more have been driven to the brink of famine, according to humanitarian organisations.
The renewed fighting in Hodeidah marked the first battles there since the warring sides established joint observation posts in late October as part of de-escalation moves in the city.
Before the U.N.-brokered peace talks in December last year, there had been heavy fighting for the port, which is vital for aid and food imports.
Government loyalists backed by the Saudi-led military coalition had launched an offensive to retake Hodeidah from the rebels in June 2018.
In May 2019, the U.N. announced that the rebels had withdrawn from Hodeidah and two other nearby ports, the first step on the ground since the truce deal.
The new clashes come after the U.N. envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said on Friday that airstrikes had sharply declined in number over the past two weeks, pointing to the possibility of a general ceasefire in the war-torn nation.
Griffiths said the rate of air strikes had fallen by 80% during that period, adding that it was perhaps an “important sign that something is changing in Yemen.”
With reporting from AFP