ADEN // Residents of the Red Sea port of Mokha began fleeing their homes on Friday in anticipation of a battle between Houthis rebels and forces loyal to the government.
Families packed up their cars with their belongings and set out for Hodeida, the port which lies 184 kilometres further north up the coast, leaving behind what one displaced Mokha resident described as a “military zone” as both sides awaited reinforcements.
“If the Houthis don’t withdraw from Mokha, I think they will wreck everything as they are spread out everywhere,” said one man who fled to Hodeida. “Many people have not left Mokha because they have nowhere else to go and they don’t want to live in a camp for the displaced, so they are stuck inside the city.”
The Houthis were allowing civilians to leave Mokha, the man added, but some Houthi fighters had sold their firearms and were posing as civilians to escape. Those left in the city are under a Houthi curfew. Anyone found outside their homes after 9pm is arrested, he said.
The Saudi Arabian channel, Al Akhbaria television, reported that pro-government forces were only 10 kilometres from Mokha with more than 500 armoured and other military vehicles standing by ready to do battle for control of the port, which is key to Yemen’s trade. But a source in the loyalist popular resistance, based in Taez, warned that the battle for Mokha could be long. .
“It is a city full of people who are not fighters so the advance has to be cautious if we are to avoid hundreds of civilians being killed,” the source said.
Saudi-led air strikes on the Yemen’s Red Sea coast killed at least 29 rebels over a 24-hour period, military sources said on Friday.
The strikes hit two military camps, an ammunition depot and an arms transporter in Hodeida province. About 20 fighters and renegade troops were also wounded.
Pro-government forces launched a major offensive earlier this month aimed at ousting the rebels from Dhubab district at the southern end of the 450 kilometre long coastline.
The Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE, intervened in Yemen in March 2015 in support of beleaguered President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi. However, the rebels and their allies still control the capital Sanaa and much of the central and northern highlands as well as the Red Sea coast. at present.