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Yemen forces launch assault on rebel-held port city

AFP  |  Al Jah (Yemen) 

Yemeni forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition launched a major offensive today to retake the rebel-held port city of Hodeida, despite UN warnings of a "catastrophic humanitarian impact".

Field commanders told AFP that troops pushed towards airport after Yemeni pro-government forces received a "green light" from the coalition.

The offensive is controversial because the port serves as the entry point for 70 per cent of Yemen's imports as the country teeters on the brink of famine.

The coalition accuses the rebels of using the port to secure Iranian arms, notably the ballistic missiles the militants have increasingly fired into Saudi territory. Coalition sources said the alliance carried out 18 air strikes on positions on the outskirts of today.

According to medical sources in the province, 22 fighters were killed by coalition raids, while three pro-government fighters were killed in a rebel ambush south of The port city, home to 600,000 people, was captured by the Iran-backed insurgents in 2014 along with the capital

Saudi Arabia, the and a bloc of other countries intervened in the following year with the goal of restoring the government to power.

said yesterday that negotiations had failed to force the rebels from Hodeida, and that a grace period for UN-led peace efforts was over.

"All peaceful and political means of removing the from have been exhausted," the government said in a statement carried by Yemen's state agency Saba.

The on Monday withdrew its international staff from Hodeida, saying an attack would "impact hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians." The UN has warned that the likely "catastrophic humanitarian impact" would be worsened due to Hodeida's key role as an entry point for aid and commercial goods.

"Cutting off imports through Hodeida for any length of time will put Yemen's population at extreme, unjustifiable risk," Lise Grande, UN for Yemen, said.

The UAE, a pillar of the anti-Huthi coalition, says retaking Hodeida is necessary to force the rebels to make concessions.

"The current & illegal Huthi occupation of Hodeida is prolonging the Yemeni war. The liberation of the city & port will create a new reality & bring the Huthis to the negotiations," tweeted yesterday.

Ahead of the offensive, the UAE sought to project unity with the after months of strained relations -- most recently over its military activities on the Yemeni island of

Yemeni held rare talks in on Tuesday night with Emirati Crown Prince

"Our destiny and that of will continue to be one, and our shared and bloodshed will draw us closer," the UAE strongman told Hadi, Yemen's state agency Saba reported.

Hadi, who lives in exile in Riyadh, was also seeking to repair relations with Abu Dhabi, which has sidelined him over the past year by backing rival forces.

"In the meeting, hailed the positions of the UAE leadership ... in defending a common destiny," Saba said.

Yemeni forces massing around Hodeida are a mix of local fighters, those loyal to Hadi, and supporters of the ex-head of state,

They are backed on the ground by the UAE, while has been leading a campaign of air strikes.

Analysts say anti-rebel forces are determined to drive the Huthis from the key port, having failed to score any major victories since the first year of the war.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has raised alarm over the plight of Hodeida's 300,000 children and the risk that drinking water supplies will be disrupted.

"UNICEF has pre-prepositioned supplies in Hodeida: over 20,000 basic hygiene kits (one kit per family). 40,000 additional kits are in the pipeline. We hope we don't need to use them," UNICEF said on her account.

The Huthi leadership yesterday called on the international community to "pressure a halt to the escalation", warning an assault on Hodeida would put navigation at risk. Saudi Arabia's also yesterday said the retaking of Hodeida was critical, tweeting that the Iran-backed rebels posed a "growing threat" to maritime security.

Today, the Huthis said they targeted a coalition warship off the coast of Hodeida with two missiles, with rebel outlet Al-Masirah claiming a direct hit.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, June 13 2018. 17:40 IST