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Yemen Forces Take Airport Runway       06/20 06:19

   SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Yemeni fighters backed by the United Arab Emirates said 
they seized the southern runway of the international airport near the key 
Yemeni city of Hodeida, as fighting raged Wednesday between pro-government 
forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels.

   The Amaleqa brigades, a fighting force backed by the coalition that includes 
the UAE, also said in a statement they seized areas on the west and east sides 
of the airport. They have been advancing toward an area near Kilo 16 road, 
aiming to cut off the link between Hodeida and the capital Sanaa, a statement 
said.

   Col. Turki al-Malki, coalition spokesman, claimed the forces took over the 
airport and that Yemeni forces are currently clearing the airport of Houthi 
land-mines. He added in a statement that there were no civilian casualties in 
the fighting and that after liberation of the airport, the coalition will press 
the Houthis to accept a political settlement.

   Yemeni officials said Saudi-led coalition warplanes have been hitting parts 
of the airport including the main compound, where the rebels are holed up. They 
confirmed that government forces have been clearing land mines the Houthis used 
to slow the forces' advance.

   Meanwhile, fierce battles ensued in the ad-Durayhimi district outside 
Hodeida, about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) south of the airport, the officials 
said.

   The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not 
authorized to brief media.

   Hodeida is some 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Sanaa, Yemen's 
capital.

   The Saudi-led coalition launched the campaign to retake Hodeida last 
Wednesday, with Emirati troops leading the force of government soldiers and 
irregular militia fighters backing Yemen's exiled government. Saudi Arabia has 
provided air support, with targeting guidance and refueling from the U.S.

   The campaign to seize control of Hodeida threatens to worsen Yemen's 
humanitarian situation.

   The offensive has faced criticism from international aid groups, who fear a 
protracted fight could force a shutdown of the port and potentially tip 
millions into starvation. Some 70 percent of Yemen's food enters via the port, 
as well as the bulk of humanitarian aid and fuel supplies. Around two-thirds of 
the country's population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are at 
risk of starving.

   The Houthis seized control of Sanaa in September 2014, later pushing south 
toward the port city of Aden. The Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict in 
March 2015 and has faced criticism for a campaign of airstrikes that has killed 
civilians and destroyed hospitals and markets.

   The Houthis, meanwhile, have laid land mines, killing and wounding 
civilians, targeted religious minorities and imprisoned opponents.


(KA)

 
 
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