Heavy fighting on Yemen’s west coast kills hundreds

Fishermen at a village where human traffickers operate

Over the weekend, as the UN's top Yemen mediator Martin Griffiths tried to talk the Houthis into peacefully turning over the port, Saudi-backed troops clashed with the rebels just miles from the city, with most United Nations and nongovernmental organization workers quickly hustled out to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.

"We are, at the present moment in intense consultation ..." "I hope that it will be possible to avoid a battle for Hodeidah".

Last month, the group fired a salvo of missiles at the capital, Riyadh, saying it was targeting economic assets.

Mr Griffiths held several rounds of talks last week in Sanaa without being able to convince the Houthis to hand control over of the Al Hodeidah port to UN-supervised worldwide forces.

A US -backed, Saudi-led military coalition is fighting against the Houthis on behalf of the government of President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, who lives in exile in Riyadh.

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Aid agencies say it is the city's location on the Red Sea that makes it such a strategic prize.

Houthis have maintained control of the city since 2015 and have used its port to smuggle weapons and profit off resold aid.

Mark Lowcock, the head of the UN's office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the consequences of the suspension of operations at the port of Hudeida would be "catastrophic".

"While the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies are reconfiguring their presence it's also our planned intention though to stay and deliver".

"The Emiratis have informed us today that they will now give a 3-day grace period for the United Nations (and their partners) to leave the city", it said.

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Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including Hudeida, in 2014.

Three people have been killed in southern Saudi Arabia, after a suspected Houthi missile fired from Yemen hit the town of Jizan late Saturday, Riyadh has said.

Heavy fighting in Yemen between pro-government forces and Houthi rebels has killed more than 600 people on both sides in recent days, security officials said Monday. Al-Monitor reported in November that United States refueling support to the coalition more than doubled over the previous year.

Meanwhile, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the US "is closely following developments" and has "spoken with Emirati leaders and made clear our desire to address their security concerns while preserving the free flow of humanitarian aid and life-saving commercial imports".

The United Nations has warned that up to 250,000 people were at risk if the coalition moves ahead with an all-out offensive to take the port, which is a major entry point for commercial supplies and aid.

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