CAIRO - The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen appears to be making gains around the port of Hodeida, which is held by Houthi rebels. Media reports say forces loyal to Yemen's internationally recognized government have captured 'Kilometer 16,' a strategic corridor linking Hodeida to the capital, Sana'a, cutting off a key supply route used by the rebels. The development comes days after the Houthis missed U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.
The Houthis' al-Masira TV broadcast video of a coalition airstrike on a bus terminal in Hodeida and a number of vehicles that had caught fire. It was not clear when the attack took place. The government and rebel forces are battling for control of the port, which serves as a vital lifeline for people throughout Yemen.
The military advances come a day after both U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified to Congress that the coalition was making progress in avoiding civilian casualties. The military operation had been paused to allow peace talks to take place.
Washington-based Gulf analyst Theodore Karasik says VOA that the Houthis' failure to send a delegation to the Geneva talks prompted the coalition to step up its operation to recapture Hodeida. Crucial humanitarian aid goes through the port, although the Yemeni government accuses the Houthis of using the port to smuggle weapons.
'The UAE and Saudi Arabia are very clear about the failure of the Geneva talks and both Abu Dhabi and Riyadh are pursuing the Hodeida operation and are beginning to expand their capture of Houthi (held) lands...,' he said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates say they are providing funds and supplies to support aid efforts in Yemen. The Iran-backed Houthis blame the coalition for choking off imports into the country.
Hilal Khashan teaches political science at the American University of Beirut. He thinks that both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are anxious to end the war in Yemen and of bolstering cooperation in the Gulf in the face of Iran. The Saudi Riyadh Daily newspaper, he says, even broached the subject of eventually ending a dispute with neighboring Qatar.
'It referred (in its Thursday edition) for the first time since the beginning of the (Yemen) war in 2015 to U.S. efforts to bring the countries of the GCC together in order to confront Iran,' said Khashan.
Khashan says, 'U.S. efforts to create an Arab NATO require ending the blockade of Qatar (by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt).' Riyadh and its allies imposed an embargo on Doha in June 2017 after maintaining that Doha was supporting terrorist activities in a number of Middle East states. Qatar has denied the accusations.