SAN'A, Yemen, June 4 (UPI) -- The Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen could soon lose control of the most important territory under their control as pro-government forces, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, moved within 8 miles of the port city of Hodeidah in preparation for a large-scale assault.
Coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki said: "The purpose is to return the city back to the legitimate government of Yemen. Our operations are ongoing. Our goal is to cut the vein that the Houthis are benefiting from."
The Saudi-funded Al Arabiya news channel reported that coalition forces seized heavy weaponry and rockets from the Houthi militia and that fighting was taking place Wednesday near Hodeidah airport.
Al Arabiya said the rebels "suddenly withdrew" from checkpoints they had set up when they entered Hodeidah province.
Sources in Yemen said Houthi militias suffered "unprecedented" losses, including the bulk of the elite "Brigades of Hussein" after coalition forces destroyed reinforcement convoys.
The military sources said, as government troops and Arab coalition forces edged closer to Hodeidah, the Houthis began looting state institutions, transferring funds and equipment to Sana'a and Mahwit governorates. Newly recruited tribesmen have taken positions on the outskirts of Hodeidah to slow the coalition advance.
The Hodeidah offensive had been delayed because of U.N. concerns over the possible humanitarian effects. The Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition have called for the port to be put under the control of international monitors.
An editorial in the United Arab Emirates' Gulf News said that capturing Hodeidah, "the last major port city under Houthi control," would mean the rebels "lose the ability to receive Iranian weapons and thus the beginning of the end of their grip on the country."
Coalition forces and their allies claim Hodeidah is the Houthis' main source of weapons smuggling from Iran and has been instrumental in upgrading the rebels' military capabilities.
Last December, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley presented the U.N. Security Council with what she described as irrefutable proof of Iran supplying Houthi rebels with weaponry.
A European official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Thomson Reuters: "The Iranians have given indications that they are now willing to offer their services to liaise with the Houthis to move forward.
"The Iranians are now at least recognizing there is a channel. They obviously aren't saying they control the Houthis and they never will but they recognize they have a certain influence on them and ready to use those channels. That's new."
This article originally appeared at The Arab Weekly.