(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
ADEN - Arab coalition troops stormed the airport in Yemen's main port Hodeidah on Tuesday and captured large areas of the compound in battles with Iran-aligned Houthis, a Yemeni military source, the UAE news agency and local residents said.
Residents of the strategic Red Sea city said battles were also raging on the coastal road leading to the densely populated city center from the airport, with Apache helicopter gunships of the Western-backed coalition providing close air support.
Wresting the airport from the Houthis would be a significant step to a takeover of Hodeidah by coalition-backed forces. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged a swift assault to avoid disrupting aid deliveries to Yemen through the port.
"We can hear the sounds of artillery, mortars and sporadic machinegun fire. The Houthis have been using tanks," a resident close to the coastal strip told Reuters by telephone, asking not to be identified.
"Water has been cut off to many of the areas near the Corniche area because the Houthis have dug trenches and closed water pipes. Many people are fleeing these neighborhoods and going deeper into the city center."
The Houthis said they fired a missile targeting a facility of oil giant Saudi Aramco in Asir in southwestern Saudi Arabia, Houthi-run media reported. An Aramco official said the company's facilities were safe and operating normally.
Saudi and UAE state media accused the Houthis of shelling civilian districts. Residents said the Houthi tanks were targeting coalition forces.
The Arab alliance launched the onslaught on Hodeidah, the Houthis' sole port, on June 12 to try and turn the tables in a long-stalemated proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has exacerbated turmoil across the Middle East.
"They have stormed the airport," an anti-Houthi Yemeni military source told Reuters earlier on Tuesday.
The UAE state news agency WAM said large swathes of the airport compound had been taken by coalition forces. Houthi media said coalition warplanes had carried out more than 40 strikes on the airport since the morning.
The escalation in fighting has wounded and displaced dozens of civilians and hampered humanitarian agencies trying to send vital aid to million of Yemenis via the Red Sea port.