A New Offensive Threatens to Deepen Yemen's Humanitarian Crisis

Battle for Yemen's biggest port under way

Battle for Yemen's biggest port under way

Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said the ships - from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - are part of coalition efforts "toward ensuring abundant humanitarian supplies" to Hodeida during the offensive. But it could set off a prolonged street-by-street battle that inflicts heavy casualties.

"Hodeidah's port is crucial to a country that is 80% dependent on imports to meet basic necessities".

Before the war, over 70 percent of Yemen's food and fuel imports came through Hudaida, accounting for over 40 percent of the nation's customs income.

Despite the fighting, the United Nations kept up its aid supplies.

Turki al-Malki, a Saudi military spokesman, described coalition forces as around 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the airfield in an interview with Saudi-owned satellite news channel Al Arabiya.

"We have enough food for now, but we don't know if we'll have more of it if the port completely shuts down", 18-year-old Safaa, who requested her real name to be withheld, told Al Jazeera.

The coalition's initial battle plan appears to involve a pincer movement.

The Yemeni army and resistance forces, aided by the Arab coalition, officially launched the battle to liberate the city and port of Hodeidah, west of Yemen, on Wednesday at dawn after the Houthis rejected peaceful solutions.

Nine pro-government troops were killed in the same area, the medics said. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorised to brief journalists.

"The liberation of the port is the start of the fall of the Houthi militia and will secure marine shipping in the Bab al-Mandab strait and cut off the hands of Iran, which has long drowned Yemen in weapons that shed precious Yemeni blood", the Arab-backed government-in-exile said in a statement.

Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S., said addressing the humanitarian situation effectively "requires liberating Yemen from the control of Houthi militias" which he said disrupt the flow and distribution of humanitarian supplies.

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Saudi-led coalition warplanes and Apache helicopters provided "continuous" air support to pro-government forces, striking Houthi positions, military sources said.

A Yemeni anti-Houthi military official said the alliance had brought to bear a 21,000-strong force.

The Saudi coalition did not immediately confirm the incident.

Hodeidah is a city of around 600,000 people, and the lone port city under the control of the Shi'ite Houthi rebels. On Wednesday, Saudi-led coalition forces began an assault on the country's largest port, June 13, 2018.

The attack on Hodeidah is particularly painful because it serves as a major port through which food supplies and humanitarian aid are delivered to needy Yemenis.

On Thursday, authorities at the port said it remained open to ships. The work in the port is normal.

"The offensive against Hodeida risks triggering catastrophic consequences for all of Yemen", Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.

"It's one of the poorest governorates in Yemen, and it's also a very densely populated urban center", Hodeib said in a phone interview Wednesday. Lasting peace and stability in Yemen will require dialogue and negotiation.

Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Washington Khaled bin Salman also on Tuesday said the retaking of Hodeida was critical, tweeting that the Iran-backed rebels posed a "growing threat" to maritime security.

More than 10,000 people have died and 3 million displaced in that time.

Martin Griffiths, United Nations special envoy to Yemen, wrote on Wednesday that he is "extremely concerned" with the Saudi-led military escalation and said he is working with both parties to avert further disaster. They have always been restricting imports into Hodeidah to prevent what they say is Iranian traffic of missiles to the Houthis, and say they can swiftly improve food supplies once they control the port.

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