Yemen's rebel-held Hudaida under assault from Saudi-led coalition

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

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

The United Nations delivered food and other vital aid supplies to the Yemeni port of Hodeidah on Wednesday even as a Saudi-led coalition carried out naval shelling and air strikes on the city, the top UN humanitarian official in Yemen told Reuters.

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

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.

The Arab Coalition's spokesman, Colonel Turki al-Malki, said on Wednesday that the Houthis have failed all political efforts to hand over the western city of Hodeidah.

Saudi-owned satellite news channels and later state media announced the battle had begun, citing military sources.

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.

Yemen's exiled government said in a statement that it "has exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the Houthi militia from the port of Hodeida", according to The Associated Press.

"The coalition's operations to liberate Hodeidah is part of the Coalition's unwavering commitment to support the people of Yemen against the tyranny imposed by Iranian-backed militias that are spreading chaos and destruction in Yemen", Khalid bin Salman wrote in a tweet.

It includes Emirati and Sudanese troops as well as Yemenis, drawn from southern separatists, local Red Sea coast fighters and a battalion led by a nephew of late ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The port is 150km (90 miles) south-west of Sanaa, Yemen's capital held by the Houthis since they swept into the city in September 2014. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015.

"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.

The United Nations on Monday withdrew its global staff from Hodeida, saying an attack would "impact hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians".

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.

Humanitarian organisations had developed "contingency plans" for the event of an attack affecting the 600,000 people living in and around Hodeida, she said.

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. However, Griffiths' recent appointment as envoy and his push for new negotiations might have encouraged the Saudi-led coalition to strengthen its hand ahead of any peace talks.

The US position on Hodeidah continues to shift wildly, however. The International Committee of the Red Cross said last week it had pulled 71 foreign staff out of Yemen.

After the assault on Hudaydah began, Ms Grande reminded all parties to the conflict that under worldwide humanitarian law they had to "do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they need to survive".

Washington had also cautioned against the assault. Already, Yemeni security officials said some were fleeing the fighting.

Its leader, exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi, said his government had proposed compromises but would not let the Houthis hold the Yemeni people "hostage to a prolonged war which the Houthis ignited".

The Houthis, with roots in a Zaidi Shi'ite minority that ruled a thousand-year kingdom in Yemen until 1962, deny they are pawns of Iran.

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