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 20km away and operations continue," spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said at a press conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh late Monday, explaining the progress made by the Iranian-led Houthi movement.
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" consequences.
The renewed push towards Hodeidah comes amid increasing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, resulting in a three-year proxy war in Yemen, killing more than 1
Yemeni officials told Reuters earlier this month that troops in Hodeidah province were advancing but did not plan to launch an attack on densely populated areas nearby.
The coalition-backed forces have now reached al-Durayhmi, a rural area some 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 approved 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 were denied by the group and Tehran.
Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi called his supporters and Yemeni tribesmen in a television address on Sunday to drive to Hodeidah to confront the "breach" along the coastal areas.
The Arab-Arab Confederation has made progress on the southwest coast since the Yemen War intervention in 2015 to restore the internationally recognized government-in-exile and to repress the Houthis who hold the north, including the capital, Sana'a.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis fled Hodeidah, Yemen's second most populous 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; Editing by Tom Brown