THE LEVANT – Yemeni rebels have captured the Red Sea city of Hodeidah, home to the country’s second most important port, just weeks after seizing the capital, a security official said Tuesday.
The Houthi Shiite rebels met little resistance as they swept into Hodeidah, located 226 kilometres (140 miles) west of Sana’a, taking over its air and sea ports, the official said.
It came hours after President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi named a new prime minister Monday in a fresh bid to end the impoverished country’s crippling political crisis.
“Houthi militants are deployed across vital installations, including the airport and the port,” said the security official.
He said a security guard was killed when the rebels seized a court in the city, which is home to more than two million people.
Military and rebel sources confirmed that Houthi militants were seen deployed across main roads in Hodeidah.
Houthi militiamen stormed into Sana’a on September 21, easily seizing key government installations, and they now man checkpoints and run patrols across the capital in almost total absence of the security forces.
Military sources had warned that the rebels were looking to take control of Hudeida and to extend their presence to the narrow Bab al-Mandab strait, which leads to the Suez canal.
The rebels, who are also known as Ansarullah and have fought the central government for more than a decade, already had thousands of armed men in Hudeida.
Yemen has been wracked by political turmoil and sporadic violence since the 2012 toppling of strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, with rebels and militants battling to exploit a power vacuum and seize control of territory.
Hadi on Monday named an envoy to the UN, Khalid Bahah, as the new premier, after the rebels rejected an earlier choice.
Bahah’s nomination appeared to have the support of Huthi rebels, and the appointment of a neutral prime minister was seen as a key step in persuading them to withdraw from Sanaa.
Yemen, located next to oil-rich Saudi Arabia and key shipping routes in the Gulf of Aden, is a key US ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda.