For the fourth consecutive year, Eid al-Fitr has done little to bring quiet to Yemen’s war-weary residents. In Hodeida, airstrikes have been replaced with a new norm: snipers, artillery shells, and missiles.
HODEIDA, YEMEN — “This is our Eid gift from Saudi Arabia,” a visitor to a private hospital in Hodeida told MintPress as he pulled back a blood-soaked blue plastic cover draping the lifeless body of his child. The girl, whose torso and arms were dotted with holes from high-caliber bullets, did not make it to her second birthday — she was killed in a barrage of gunfire let loose by Saudi Coalition gunmen as they peppered residential neighborhoods on Al-Shuhada Street in the al Hali directorate of Hodeida. An elderly woman and a man were also killed in the attack, which severely injured at least three other residents.
The attack on Al-Shuhada Street was one of many carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition in the first three days of Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday marking the end of the month of Ramadan. Dozens of civilians, including women and children, were also killed in the attacks.
On the first day of Eid al-Fitr, three people were killed and nine were wounded when Coalition warplanes swarmed villages in the Hasha district of Dhal’i province. That attack came less than two weeks after Coalition gunmen shelled a family home in the same province, killing two women and injuring a child.
In Hajjah, scores of civilians were killed when missiles launched by military vessels moored in Yemen’s territorial waters rained down upon the province’s residents. “That two massacres were committed by the U.S.-backed Saudi-led Coalition in Dhali and Hajjah on Eid al-Fitr proves [the Coalition’s] criminal bloody and brutal policy in Yemen,” Mohammed Abdulsalam, a spokesman for Ansar Allah, said in the wake of the attacks.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in Yemen since January 2016 according to a new report by the Armed Conflict and Location Event Data Project (ACLED) issued last Thursday, including 10,000 people who were killed in the past five months alone. The ACLED report recorded 3,155 direct attacks that targeted civilians, resulting in more than 7,000 civilian deaths.
Another Eid, another barrage
For the fourth consecutive year, Eid al-Fitr has done little to bring quiet to Yemen’s war-weary residents. In Hodeida, airstrikes have been replaced with a new norm: snipers, artillery shells, and missiles. Despite a Houthi withdrawal from three key ports in the province under a U.N.-sponsored cease-fire deal, the Saudi-led Coalition continues to hammer the strategic port city, leaving its residents increasingly pessimistic about internationally backed efforts to end the four-year war.
On Tuesday, Saudi airstrikes leveled Hodeida’s Zubariyah water and sewage station, which services 80 percent of the city’s residents. The attack fell on the same day that Saudi Arabia announced it was taking “humanitarian steps” to rescue an Iranian sailor from Yemen’s coastal waters “for medical reasons.” The accident was the talk of many of Hodeida’s residents, who questioned the Saudi claims and their reason for saving a stranded sailor while causing civilians in Hodeida to die of thirst.
Most humanitarian groups maintain that since the United Nation brokered a truce between Yemen’s Houthis and the Saudi-led Coalition in Stockholm, Sweden, the lives of thousands of civilians in Yemen, especially in Hodeida, have actually worsened. The number of internally displaced people has increased to 3.3 million according to the UN’s own figures, marking a sharp uptick from the 2.2 million people recorded last Eid.
For Yemen’s residents, Saudi-led Coalition attacks have affected their ability to celebrate Eid, as they have affected every aspect of their lives. Loved ones are no longer present, lost to the brutal war; the blockade, the diseases and the famine have all radically altered what has traditionally been a joyous occasion.
“We have surprises”
For its part, Yemen’s army — loyal to the Houthis — has vowed a strong military response to ongoing Saudi attacks. Houthi fighters recently seized more than 20 military positions in Saudi Arabia’s southern Najran province in a 96-hour period, killing 200 Saudi troops and their allied mercenary forces. Saudi military equipment was seized and at least 20 armored vehicles were destroyed. The media branch of Yemen’s Ansar Allah released footage on Friday showing Saudi military locations in Najran being overrun by Houthi fighters. Saudi Arabia has yet to comment on the attacks.
Yemen’s Defense Minister, Mohammed Nasser al-Atifi, recently told reporters that Yemen has made great strides in its defense sector which will, “surprise Saudi Arabia and its allies. We have surprises that they can never see coming.” He added that Yemen is currently in the final stages of developing various air defenses.
Although Saudi Arabia is equipped with the latest U.S.-supplied weaponry — everything from M1A2 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley fighting vehicles to AH-64D Apache helicopters — as well as having an air force equipped with a high-tech arsenal, footage of the attacks shows Saudi troops fleeing their posts upon confrontation, leaving behind weapons caches including American-made armored vehicles, Kalashnikovs, and sniper rifles.
In the oil-rich province of Al-Jouf, which sits adjacent to the Saudi border, a convergence of fighters from the Yemeni army, the Houthis and local residents recaptured 26 military sites and an estimated 40 square kilometer area in Khab and Sha’f. The area had been used as a staging ground by Saudi Arabia. At least 10 armored vehicles were reportedly destroyed in the battle.
A source inside of Yemen’s military, who wished to remain anonymous, told MintPress that Yemeni forces plan to launch more military operations in a bid to control more Saudi military sites in the regions of Jizan, Asir, and Najran, as long as the Coalition continues its attacks on Yemen.
In the Coalition-controlled port city of Aden, Yemen’s army launched a drone attack on a Saudi military parade at the Ras Abbas military camp on Monday. The attack was carried out using a domestically manufactured Qasef-2K (Striker-2K) drone and reportedly killed high-level Saudi -led Coalition officers. The Saudi-owned Al-Hadath television channel later quoted sources claiming that air defenses had shot down a drone west of Aden.
Brigadier General Yahya Saree, the spokesman for Yemeni armed forces, said of the Aden attack, “The enemy should have learned a lesson from the Al Anad Air Base incident, but taking the Yemeni wisdom and talent lightly will open the gates of hell to them.” Saree was referring to a drone strike in Lahij province on January 10 that killed several Saudi military commanders, including Hadi’s top intelligence official and deputy army chief of staff. “The bank of targets is widening day by day,” Saree added.
The attack was among 300 Saudi-led Coalition targets announced last month by the Houthis. The targets are said to include military headquarters and strategic facilities inside Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Saudi-led Coalition military targets inside Yemen. Attacks on the 300 targets began with an attack on a major oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia with explosive-laden drones on May 14.
Learning from an enemy
In a bid to secure Yemen’s skies from the ever-present threat of Saudi-led Coalition drones, the Houthis and their allies are investing heavily in the development of a nascent air-defense system. On Friday, a U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper drone was shot down in Hodeida. In Najran, a Saudi drone was downed on Wednesday. Last month a U.S.-made General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone was shot down using a surface-to-air missile.
— المركز الإعلامي لأنصار الله (@AnsarAllahMC) June 7, 2019
Saudi warplanes often target the wreckage of their own downed aircraft hoping to hinder the Houthis’ ability to reverse engineer the highly-prized U.S. technology. The MQ-9 Reaper — which can travel vast distances, be piloted from thousands of miles away, hover in the sky for hours, and unleash a fury of Hellfire missiles — would be a rare prize for the Houthis, who have had some success in reverse-engineering military technology for their own gain.
Yemen’s Defense Minister, Mohammed Nasser al-Atifi, said the country has already made great strides in its defense sector, which he vowed would “surprise” Saudi Arabia and its allies. Speaking at the gathering of troops on the Saudi-Yemen border on Thursday, al-Atifi said that the military had developed advanced weapons as well as technology that met the country’s need to defend its sovereignty, unity, and independence. He went to say that Yemeni armed forces are moving forward with manufacturing missiles as well as armed and offensive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), rockets, and other kinds of weapons.
Drones are an ever-present reality in Yemeni and Saudi Arabian skies, offering the Houthis more opportunities to down them and thereby develop their own technical abilities — which the Houthis hope that, combined with some semblance of an air-defense system, will create enough of a deterrent to end the U.S.-backed war on their country.
Feature photo | A malnourished child looks out from the door of his family’s shelter in Hodeida, Yemen, May 26, 2019. Khaled Abdullah | Reuters
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.