Saudi-led coalition forces begin assault on Yemen aid port

Residents of the city collect water from an Oxfam water tank

Quoting medical sources in the province, the AFP news agency reported that 22 Houthi fighters had been killed over the past 24 hours by coalition raids. They say a network of minefields in the rebel-held areas has hindered the advance of government forces.

Western countries have quietly backed the Arab states diplomatically, while mostly avoiding direct public involvement in the conflict.

It would be the first time since the foreign armies joined the war in 2015 on behalf of Yemen's exiled government that they have attempted to capture such a well-defended major city. Their aim is to box in the Houthis in Sanaa, cut their supply lines and force them to the negotiating table. He said the U.N. Security Council must act to secure a cease-fire before the people of Hodeida "suffer the same fate as those in Aleppo, Mosul or Raqqa".

Coalition air strikes targeting Houthi positions along the coast between Baiyt Al Faqih and Ad Durayhimi killed dozens of rebels on Wednesday, a local resident told The National.

"Under worldwide humanitarian law, parties to the conflict have to do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they need to survive", said Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.

It noted that pro-government forces took months to consolidate control over the small coastal town of Mocha a year ago, and that the Houthis were entrenched in Hudaydah and likely to try to hold on to the city for as long as possible.

To the west of the city is the Red Sea and major global shipping lanes that are used to move goods between Europe, Asia and Africa via the Suez Canal.

Charities have warned the targeting of Hodeida will begin an intractable and bloody new chapter in the conflict, trapping civilians and prompting the closure of the port to make starvation a "very real possibility".

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The United Nations said it was engaged in "intense" shuttle diplomacy between the Houthis, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to avert the attack, which it fears could exacerbate the world's most urgent humanitarian crisis.

The city and surrounding area are home to 600,000 people, and the port is the main route for food and aid to reach most Yemenis, of which 8.4 million fee pre-famine conditions.


Aid agencies say the coastal city provides a vital route for food and medicine and that millions of people are at risk of starvation if goods can not pass through it.

Hodeidah, Yemen's biggest port and the only port controlled by the Houthis, serves as the lifeline for the majority of Yemen's population, which lives in Houthi-ruled territory.

"We are distributing food, hygiene and nutritional supplies, shelter materials".

"Hodeidah port remains open to shipping".

Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities - accusations denied by the group and Tehran.

The early stages of Wednesday's offensive followed statements from UAE and Saudi officials that military action was necessary.

The renewed push on Hodeidah comes amid increased tensions between Saudi Arabia and arch-foe Iran after the United States withdrew last month from an global nuclear agreement with Tehran, a move hailed by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

The launch of a ballistic missile towards Riyadh by the Houthis in November 2017 also prompted the coalition to tighten its blockade of Yemen.

"We gave United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths 48 hours to convince the Houthis to withdraw from the port and city of Hodeidah", UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told France's Le Figaro newspaper.

Such action was "the Houthi response to global calls for their peaceful retreat", he added.

The United Nations and other aid groups had pulled their worldwide staff from Hodeida ahead of the rumored assault.

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