RIYADH / ADEN (Reuters) – Forces backed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia join the Hudidah-led port city of Hodeidah, a coalition spokesman said, but did not say whether it plans to attack the West gave harbor, long an important goal in the war.
"Hodeidah is 20 km (12.43 miles) away and operations are continuing," said spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki a press conference in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh late Monday, during which the gains made against the Iran-oriented Houthi movement are set out.
The Western-backed military alliance announced plans to move to Hodeidah last year, but withdrew under international pressure, with the United Nations warning that any attack on the country's largest port would have "catastrophic" effects.
The renewed push towards Hodeidah comes amid mounting tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran in a three-year proxy war in Yemen, killing more than 10,000 people, displacing three million people and displacing the impoverished country to the country Power was about to starve.
Yemeni officials told Reuters earlier this month that troops were advancing in Hodeidah province but were not planning to attack densely populated areas nearby.
The coalition-backed forces have now reached al-Durayhmi, a rural area about 18 kilometers from Hodeidah Harbor, residents and military spokesman told Reuters on Monday.
It was unclear whether Saudi Arabia's Western allies, increasingly targeted for arms sales to coalition states, had authorized an attack on Hodeidah, whose port handles most of Yemen's commercial imports and much-needed relief supplies.
Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle Iranian weapons, which are denied by the group and Tehran.
Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi called his supporters and Yemeni tribesmen in a televised address on Sunday to drive to Hodeidah to counter the "breach" along the coastal areas.
The alliance of major Arab Gulf states has made progress on the southwest coast since the intervention in the Yemen War in 2015 to restore the internationally recognized government in exile and push back the Houthis who hold the north including the capital, Sana'a.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis fled Hodeidah, Yemen's second most populated province, as fighting intensified at the front, Amnesty International reported earlier this month.
Reporting by Sarah Dadouch in Riyadh and Mohammed Ghobari in Aden; Letter from Ghaida Ghantous; Arrangement by Tom Brown