Saudi measures to secure Yemeni al-Mokha and al-Khokha ports after UAE reduced its troops

Aden (Debriefer)
2019-07-12 | Since 3 Month

Al-Mokha Portإضغط هنا لقراءة الخبر بالعربية

Reuters reported quoting four familiar with the matter sources that Saudi-led Arab coalition have taken measures to secure two strategic ports in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab Straits after its main ally, the UAE, reduced its military presence there significantly.

The UAE has drawn down its numbers in some parts of Yemen, where it had set up large bases amid a four-year-old multi-layered war that is widely seen as a proxy battle between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Two Yemeni military commanders and two Yemeni government officials told Reuters that Saudi officers had taken command of military bases at the ports of al-Mokha and al-Khokha, which Emirati forces had used to back their campaign in nearby Hodeidah and to monitor the coastline.

Riyadh has also sent an unspecified number of troops to the southern port city of Aden and Perim Island, a small volcanic rock in the strategic Bab al-Mandeb shipping lane where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden.

The spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition and the UAE government did not respond to requests for comment.

A senior Emirati official has said the UAE is not leaving a vacuum in Yemen as it trained about 90,000 local fighters and remains committed to the coalition and the Yemeni government. The UAE discussed extensively its troop redeployment with Riyadh, the official said.

The change in command is not expected to significantly affect the course of the war, nor a U.N.-backed ceasefire in Hodeidah which was signed last year in Sweden between the Saudi-backedgovernment and the Iran-aligned Houthis.

Riyadh has remained supportive of U.N. peace efforts despite an uptick in Houthi missile and drone strikes on airports in southern Saudi Arabia over the last two months.

But by expanding the Saudi presence on the ground, the move could intensify international criticism of the kingdom's role in a war that has unleashed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and killed hundreds of civilians in errant air strikes on hospitals, schools and markets.

NARROW STRIP

The change coincides with growing tensions between Washington and Tehran, with the United States seeking to form a military coalition to protect international shipping from Iranian attacks off the coast of Yemen and near the Strait of Hormuz on the other side of the Arabian Peninsula.

On Thursday, three Iranian vessels tried to block a British tanker passing through Hormuz.

Iran has threatened to close the strategic waterway in response to U.S. calls to reduce its oil exports to zero.

Perim Island, in the middle of Bab al-Mandeb, was under the control of the UAE military since 2015, when the coalition intervened in Yemen's war, until recent weeks as Saudi Arabia took over along with Yemeni coast guards, the sources said.

The UAE, a member of the Western-backed Sunni Muslim coalition battling the Houthis, and the Yemeni forces it supports had captured a series of western coastal towns to form a narrow strip of control.

Tens of thousands of Yemeni and Sudanese troops are positioned in the area and on the southern outskirts of Hodeidah, where warring parties agreed on a ceasefire to pave the way for talks to end the war.

Yemen has been devastated by a five-year armed conflict between the government backed by a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis. The conflict has caused the world's largest humanitarian crisis.

The two sides reached the Stockholm Agreement during UN-sponsored peace consultations in Sweden in December.

The agreement called for mutual redeployment of forces from Hodeida three seaports, sending a UN mission to oversee a ceasefire, prisoners' swap and easing the blockade on Taiz province. 

But no progress has been made on redeployment, though the UN announced in May a unilateral withdrawal by the Houthis from Hodeidah ports as a first step to implement the deal.

At the time, the government criticised the UN's announcement describing the Houthi withdrawal as a game played with UN cover-up.


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