Yemeni forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition seized the main road linking the port city of Hodeidah to the capital Sanaa, blocking a key supply route for the Houthi group that controls both cities, military sources and residents said on Thursday.
The Western-backed military alliance in Yemen resumed an offensive after the collapse of peace talks on Saturday which the United Nations had hoped would avert an assault on the Red Sea city – the country’s main port and a lifeline for millions of Yemenis – and start a process to end the three-year war.
The coalition of Sunni Muslim states led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has repeatedly said that by taking control of Hodeidah it would be able to force the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement to the negotiating table by cutting off its main supply line.
“The main entrance in Hodeidah leading to Sanaa has been closed after forces backed by the UAE took control of the road,” a pro-coalition military source told Reuters.
Residents said the main eastern gate had been damaged in air strikes by coalition warplanes and that fighting was continuing on secondary streets off the main road.
There is another more circuitous supply route between Hodeidah on the western coast of Yemen to the capital in the north.
The United Nations fears an attack on Hodeidah, the entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s commercial imports and aid supplies, could trigger a famine in the impoverished state where an estimated 8.4 million people are facing starvation.
The alliance intervened in Yemen’s war – widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran – in 2015 to restore the internationally recognized government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
It launched an offensive on Hodeidah in June in an effort to bring the Houthis to their knees, but halted it after almost no gains to give UN-sponsored peace talks a chance.
The renewed fighting will put pressure on UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, who promised to press ahead with diplomacy after an attempt to hold peace talks in Geneva was abandoned on Saturday when the Houthi delegation failed to show up.
Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi accused the coalition of blocking his movement’s team from travelling, while the foreign minister of Hadi’s government, Khaled al-Yamani, accused the Houthis of trying to sabotage the negotiations.
“The coalition will use the breakdown in the talks to justify its narrative that the Houthis are unwilling to make peace and must be coerced into a settlement through military force,” Adam Baron. of the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a commentary.