Yemen: Saudi-led coalition begins battle for vital port

Saudi-led coalition launches attack on Yemen’s ‘humanitarian lifeline’ of Hodeidah – reports

The fear is that a protracted fight could force a shutdown of Hodeida's port at a time when a halt in aid risks tipping millions into starvation.

But humanitarian groups and experts have warned that an offensive on Hodeida, through which 80 percent of Yemen's aid comes, could devastate the already war-ravaged country.

Before dawn on Wednesday, convoys of vehicles appeared to be heading toward the rebel-held city, according to videos posted on social media.

Responding to the early stages of the attack-which began with an estimated 30 Saudi airstrikes within half an hour, guided by U.S. military intelligence-Win Without War wrote on Twitter that the attack is "a dark moment of shame for the United States".

"We have had more than 30 airstrikes within 30 minutes this morning around the city". 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, 8.4 million of whom are on the verge of starvation. "That was the situation before, and now it is going to get worse".

The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of conducting indiscriminate and unlawful airstrikes, as well as blocking food, fuel, and medicine into Yemen, according to Human Rights Watch.

Emirati forces with Yemeni troops moved in from the south near Hudaida's airport, while others sought to cut off Houthi supply lines to the east, the officials said.

The officials spoke on condition in anonymity because they weren't authorized to brief reporters.

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Hadi's government said in a statement reported by Saudi media on Wednesday that all political and peaceful approaches to drive the Houthis out of Hodeidah had been exhausted.

Houthi-run Al Masirah TV said two missiles struck the barge, but there was no immediate confirmation from the coalition.

It said troops, backed by the Saudi-led coalition are now about eight kilometers (five miles) from the rebel-held Hodeida. A Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict in March 2015. The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, whose area of responsibility includes the Red Sea, referred questions to the Pentagon, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Yemen's government-controlled SABA news agency said Hadi's trip came after Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited him at his home in Riyadh, where he lives in self-imposed exile.

The UN and other aid groups already had pulled their worldwide staff from Hodeida ahead of the rumoured assault.

And just to the north is the Ras Isa oil terminal - which served the Marib oilfields and was the country's main export terminal - and the nearby port of Saleef. The officials said the U.N.'s operations center there was still being manned by local staff.

Aid groups nevertheless warned of disaster.

"The population has already been weakened to extreme levels", he said.

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The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Wednesday for all sides to protect civilians.

On Monday, the UN Security Council voiced support for diplomatic efforts to avert the attack on Hodeidah.

The Security Council has strongly supported efforts by new United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths to resume political negotiations and avoid a military escalation of the three-year-long conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million, and created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The UAE, one of the main members of the coalition backing the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, had set a Tuesday deadline for the Houthi rebels to withdraw from the city under UN-led negotiations or face an assault.

The coalition accuses the Houthi rebels of using the port to secure Iranian arms, notably the ballistic missiles the militants have increasingly fired into Saudi territory.

"The port is a lifeline to much-needed supplies of food and other life-saving resources and any attack would jeopardise the ability of this country to feed itself".

The UN says some 600,000 people live in and around Hodeida, and "as many as 250,000 people may lose everything - even their lives" in the assault.

He said "aid operations will be severely challenged in the event of sustained fighting in densely populated urban areas" and stressed that people trying to flee conflict areas "must be allowed to do so without any hindrance". We are concerned about missiles and shells.

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