Paris is officially denying it, but French military sources have confirmed to Le Figaro that France sent special units in support of the Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia that is engaged in the reconquest of the port city of Al-Hudaydah, currently in the hands of Shiite Houthi rebels backed by Iran. France is selling weapons to the Gulf countries worth billions of dollars, and Emmanuel Macron is running to the rescue of the emirs and kings that have joined forces against the “Shiite threat.”
It seems to matter little that thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed or injured in the bombing runs by Saudi Arabia and its allies, which began in March 2015, aimed at bringing back to power the government run by Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, an ally of Riyadh, and to take back the capital, Sanaa, conquered by the rebels in 2014. According to sources cited by Le Figaro, France is preparing to demine the routes offering access to Al-Hudaydah, a strategic port and the main maritime access point to Yemen. Control over Al-Hudaydah is critical for the outcome of the war.
The situation in the field is not entirely clear. Earlier last week, the forces backed by Riyadh had surrounded Al-Hudaydah and launched a large offensive. Saturday morning, they announced that the city had fallen; however, the battle was still raging throughout the day, especially around the international airport.
“Army forces backed by the resistance and the Arab alliance freed Hudaydah international airport from the grip of the Houthi militia,” the Yemeni government told the press in the late morning, adding that sapper teams had started to clear out mines from the airport and the surrounding area. It was also reported that the al-Maleqa brigades, backed by the UAE, have moved toward the eastern province of Al-Hudaydah to try to cut off the main road from Sanaa and thus catch the rebels in Al-Hudaydah in a vise, preventing them from receiving further supplies from the capital. However, this account of the situation is contradicted by the stories of several eyewitnesses, according to whom the coalition forces were not yet in full control of the airport Saturday, and the fighting continued in its vicinity with great intensity.
On their part, the Shiite rebels have not confirmed the loss of the city. Their TV station, al-Masira, broadcast images of burnt vehicles and dead soldiers from the enemy forces, while Houthi fighters chanted “Death to America, death to Israel!”
During these uncertain hours, there are strong fears on the part of humanitarian agencies and international NGOs regarding the fate of Yemeni civilians. The UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, has gone to Sanaa in an attempt to negotiate a cease-fire and avert the loss of even more lives and further suffering for the local population. A few days ago, Griffiths had unsuccessfully petitioned for the city to be placed under the jurisdiction of United Nations.
Riyadh has a pressing need to win this war very soon, and not just to keep up their reputation. Finances also play a part. Over the past three years, the upkeep costs for the anti-Houthi coalition have amounted to several billion dollars from Saudi coffers, and one should not forget that the Yemeni rebels have been able to maintain their pressure even on the inhabitants of faraway Riyadh, with the launch of ballistic missiles that they most likely got from Iran.
The fall of Al-Hudaydah could also stabilize the troubled relations within the coalition between the Hadi government and the Emirates. The latter have developed relationships with southern secessionist movements with the goal to take control over the south of the country. The UAE have also occupied the island of Socotra and driven out the pro-government forces, who were readmitted only a few days ago.
A prolonged closure of the port of Al-Hudaydah, the only one not subject to the naval blockade set up by the coalition, and the resulting interruption of the flow of humanitarian aid would likely put millions of people in a desperate condition. About 70 percent of the food destined for Yemen passes through this port, as well as most of its stocks of fuel.
Two-thirds of the population (27 million) are dependent on humanitarian aid, and 8.4 million Yemenis are already at risk of starvation. Eleven NGOs, including Oxfam, have written to British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson asking him to convince the Saudis to stop the attack on Al-Hudaydah, to no avail.
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