War in Yemen: Desperate civilians trapped inside Hodeidah fear what comes next if truce fails
The new father stared at his premature baby lying in the incubator, which flickered on and off with al-Hawbani hospital’s waning electricity. Being born in Hodeidah – the epicentre of the raging war in Yemen – was the infant’s first misfortune.
Fteeni Ali Jubaili stood alone watching over son Abdullateef. He had already sent his wife home, where he thought she would be safer.
His instincts would prove correct. Three days after she gave birth, Houthi rebel fighters surrounded the hospital and the Saudi-led, Western-backed coalition began bombing their positions.
“The doctors and the patients had to escape as an Apache helicopter was striking the rebel Houthis nearby, which prompted them to take positions inside and on top of the hospital,” Mr Jubaili told the Telegraph from his home in the suburbs of Hodeidah this week.
"I was on the upper floor, I could see the helicopter firing rockets like crazy," Mr Jubaili said.
"Everybody in the hospital ran for their lives. I had to run with my baby too."
He walked for miles with baby Abdullateef, swaddled in a hospital towel, praying he would not die along the way.
Civilians in the Red Sea city of Hodeidah are trapped between Iran-aligned Houthi rebels and the coalition, who have been locked in a five-month battle that mediators are to struggling to end.
The fight for Hodeidah has been, as expected, more brutal than the others. Some 80 per cent of the country’s commercial goods and aid flows through the port, giving the upper hand to those who control it.
Taking Hodeidah would also clear a path to the capital Sanaa, which the Saudi-backed and internationally recognised government is keen to reclaim.
While both sides have agreed in principle to a ceasefire, Saudi Arabia has continued sporadically carrying out air strikes and there were reports over the weekend that the Houthis have been sending large numbers of reinforcements to the city.
The UK has spearheaded the diplomatic efforts – tabling a draft United Nations resolution calling for guarantees from both sides of safe delivery of food and medicine to Yemen’s 14 million starving that will be voted on this week.
Martin Griffiths, the British UN envoy to the country, arrived on Friday to press the warring sides to exercise restraint ahead of planned peace talks in Stockholm early next month.
Where talks have failed before, Western diplomats now see new leverage with Saudi Arabia.
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They are attempting to use an opening created by the kingdom’s new pariah status after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to pressure their ally to end its bombing campaign.
The Saudis have privately objected to the contents of the UK’s proposed resolution, which allows for senior Houthi leaders to attend the Stockholm talks. The Sunday Telegraph understands that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “threw a fit” when he was shown the initial draft.
Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Secretary, flew to Riyadh to discuss it with the prince, who is said to have thought it weakened the Saudi position and emboldened the rebels, though they both agreed to make concessions.
“The Western community is reaching a point where it no longer wishes to entertain Saudi Arabia’s violence in Yemen and so pressure has been exerted on the kingdom,” said Catherine Shakdam, the director of programs at Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies.
“This is not to say that the Western community feels in any way, shape, or form different on Yemen – only that it cannot support further bloodshed.”
The stakes could hardly be higher.
Aid workers say widespread famine in parts of Yemen is a very real likelihood if a deal for the free passage of aid is not agreed by both sides soon.
Save the Children reported last week that 85,000 children under the age of five are already thought to have starved to death since the start of the war in 2015. Meanwhile, only 50 per cent of health facilities are functioning and 18 per cent of people have no access to doctors at all, according to the World Health Organisation.
"For every child killed by bombs and bullets, dozens are starving to death — and it’s entirely preventable," Save the Children said.
Millions more are living in dire conditions.
One International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) worker said her team discovered a group of families sheltering in an abandoned school during a recent visit to Hodeidah.
“They’d been in this school for about three months but they really had nothing,” Avril Patterson, a nurse from Ireland who recently returned from Yemen. “They were eating a bit of rice or a bit of bread, or flour mixed with water once a day.
“They didn’t have a mat to sleep on, they really didn’t have anything. It’s very dramatic when you see it…small children with no shoes on their feet,” she told the Telegraph.
“People wanted them to leave because they wanted the school back. These people had nowhere to go. They literally had nothing.”
Mr Jubaili’s son is only 10 days old, but already he worries that he will grow up only knowing war.
“We need a solution today,” he said. “We can’t have a lost generation.”
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