INTERNATIONAL.- Fierce fighting raged Tuesday outside the airport of the vital Yemeni city of Hodeida, pitting thousands of pro-government fighters backed by a Saudi-led coalition against Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels, Yemeni military officials said.
The United Arab Emirates-backed Amaleqa brigades, supported by airstrikes and naval shelling from the Saudi-led coalition, have been trying to storm the southern and western parts of the airport, the officials said. However, land mines and Houthi snipers have been hindering efforts to get the airport under government control, they said.
“It is a vast, open area and the Houthis have covered the ground with land mines to prevent the forces’ advancements,” one Yemeni military official said. “It’s back and forth battles.” The official said it was a matter of hours before the forces take full control of the airport.
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The Amaleqa brigades have captured dozens of rebel fighters, including minors, in the airport fighting, the officials added. Combat has been raging at the southern runway about one kilometer (less than a mile) from the main airport compound.
Witnesses said warships and warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition have been hitting the airport and the east side of Hodeida around the clock since late Monday, aiming at cutting off the main road that links the port province and the capital, Sanaa.
Government forces have been trying for days to capture the Kilo 16 road to trap the Houthi rebels inside Hodeida and the western coast and block supplies from coming in from Sanaa. Witnesses said fighting forced dozens of families to leave their homes in the area around the Kilo 16 road toward the countryside at the east side of Hodeida province.
They said the rebels have fortified the area in preparation for a likely coming battle against government forces.