Arab coalition says will keep Yemen port open; air raids kill at least nine

By Mohammed Mukhashaf

ADEN (Reuters) - The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said on Wednesday it would keep the Houthi-controlled Hodeidah port, vital for aid, open for a month despite a fresh missile attack against Riyadh, but it kept up air raids that killed at least nine people.

The Western-backed coalition, which controls Yemen's airspace and port access, said last month it would allow humanitarian relief through Hodeidah following a nearly three-week blockade imposed because of a missile attack toward the Saudi capital's international airport.

The Saudis say the Red Sea port, which is Yemen's main entry point for food and humanitarian supplies, is also a hub used by the Houthis to bring in weapons, which it accuses Iran of supplying. Tehran denies the charges.

On Wednesday, the coalition confirmed it would keep access open to the port despite another missile attack at Riyadh on Tuesday by the Houthis which Saudi forces also intercepted.

"Keen to maintain humanitarian aid to the brotherly Yemeni people and as a result of intensified inspection measures, the coalition command announces that Hodeidah port will remain open for humanitarian and relief supplies," the coalition said in a statement carried by Saudi state news agency SPA on Wednesday.

The Saudi ambassador to Sanaa said the coalition would also allow the provision of four cranes to the port to boost aid deliveries to the war-damaged country. The ambassador, Mohammed al-Jaber, who was speaking in a televised news conference, did not give details on how the cranes would be delivered.

Earlier this year, the United Nations said the coalition turned back four cranes the United States donated to the World Food Programme to boost aid operations at Hodeidah.

The cranes would have replaced parts of the port’s infrastructure destroyed by coalition air strikes in August 2015, damage that forced ships to line up offshore because they could not be unloaded.

The coalition said ships bringing in fuel and food would also be allowed to enter for another 30 days while proposals made by the United Nations envoy to Yemen were implemented, it added.

The agency did not elaborate on the proposals. But the coalition has been demanding that a U.N. inspection regime agreed in 2015 be further tightened to prevent weapons from reaching the Houthis.

SALMAN-TRUMP CALL

Saudi state news agency SPA said King Salman discussed in a telephone call with U.S. President Donald Trump ways "to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its hostile acts and its involvement in supplying the Houthi militia with missiles to threaten the security of the kingdom and the region".

"The two leaders also asserted in the call on the need to support all humanitarian and relief efforts in order to lift the suffering from the brotherly Yemeni people," it added.

Tuesday's missile attack took place as the Houthis marked 1,000 days since the coalition intervened in the Yemen war in March 2015 to try to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after a Houthi advance on his base in Aden forced him to flee.

Saudi Arabia said that since the war began the Houthis had fired 83 ballistic missiles toward the kingdom. More than 10,000 people have been killed and a humanitarian crisis unleashed in a conflict which has intensified since ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed on Dec. 4.

FRESH AIR STRIKES

Coalition forces, which are supported by the United States and Britain, meanwhile launched fresh air strikes overnight.

Residents said at least nine members of the same family, including at least five children, were killed in one air strike which hit their home in Wadi Khair in southern Yemen's Shabwa province.

Coalition aircraft have been providing air support for southern fighters and pro-government troops as part of a push to clear the Houthis from Shabwa and the family were killed in an apparently mistaken attack.

Residents also reported that coalition aircraft bombed a new parliament chamber, part of a government compound being built in Sanaa, causing damage but no casualties.

The coalition had no immediate comment on the report but says it does not target civilians.

Similar air strikes in which civilian homes, markets and hospitals were hit are recurrent in Yemen. On Monday, eight women and two children from the same family died when war planes struck a vehicle returning from a wedding party in Marib, east of Sanaa.

(Reporting by Omar Fahmy and Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden, writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi, editing by Sami Aboudi, Larry King)

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