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

Battle for Yemen's biggest port under way

The United Nations and other aid groups already had pulled their global staff from Hudaida ahead of the expected assault.

Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al Houthi, who has threatened attacks on oil tankers along the strategic Red Sea shipping lane, warned the Western-backed alliance not to attack the port and said on Twitter his forces had targeted a coalition barge.

In Geneva, ICRC spokeswoman Marie-Claire Feghali said that development will "likely to exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen ", where water and electricity networks are vital to the civilian population's survival.

A source from the Yemeni National Resistance said that a large number of forces from Brigades AlAmalaqah and the Tihama Resistance Forces, armed with modern weapons and in high morale, have arrived at the outskirts of Al Hodeidah city to continue their build-up in the front lines in preparation for the battle of rolling back the Houthi militias and putting and end to the coup plot in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and its allies seek to attack the Yemeni city of Hudaydah.

The Houthi-run Al Masirah satellite news channel later acknowledged the offensive, claiming rebel forces hit a Saudi coalition ship near Hudaida with two land-to-sea missiles.

"The liberation of Hudaida port is a turning point in our struggle to recapture Yemen from the militias that hijacked it to serve foreign agendas", the statement added. The port remains crucial for incoming aid, food and medicine.

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.

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The assault is the first time since the Western-backed coalition of mostly Gulf states joined the war in 2015 that they have attempted to capture such a well-defended major city.

Forces loyal to Yemen's exiled government and irregular fighters led by Emirati troops have neared Hodeida in recent days.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's civil war, while the United Nations says Iran has supplied the Houthis with weapons from assault rifles up to the ballistic missiles.

Saudi Arabia views the Houthis as Iranian proxies, but the rebels deny receiving military support from Tehran.

The UN says some 600,000 people live in and around Hudaida, and "as many as 250,000 people may lose everything - even their lives" in the assault. This has made it by far the most important port for humanitarian aid, with estimates that as much as 70% of aid comes through the port. It said: "The Emiratis have informed us today that they will now give a three-day grace period for the United Nations (and their partners) to leave the city".

The air strikes on Wednesday morning targeting Houthi positions are supported by ground operations by Yemeni troops south of the Red Sea port, the internationally recognised Yemeni government-in-exile said in a statement.

But Riyadh and Abu Dhabi maintain that the port is being used to smuggle weapons.

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