Saudi coalition strikes kill 250 Houthi rebels in heavy fighting

Red Sea port of Hodeidah Yemen

Red Sea port of Hodeidah Yemen

Fighting raged near Hodeidah airport and al-Durayhmi, a rural area 10 km (6 miles) south of the city, media controlled by the Arab states and their Yemeni allies reported.

It also reported that four Emirati soldiers had died in Yemen, without specifying whether the deaths were tied to the Hodeidah operation.

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.

The Arab states hope for a swift victory that would force the Iran-aligned Houthis to negotiate.

Bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador, wrote that Houthi rebels have attacked commercial and military ships, including those belonging to the U.S. He added that the "liberation of Hodaidah" is critical because of the threat Iran-backed Houthis pose to the security of the Red Sea.

The Saudi-led coalition's plan is to take control only of the airport and seaport, plus the route leading to Sanaa, spokesman Turki al-Malki said.

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Yemen's civil war, which began in 2014, has become a broader regional conflict. "The Saudi coalition has not advanced at all in Hodeidah", Dayfallah al-Shami, a member of the movement's political bureau, told the Lebanese TV channel al-Mayadeen. The closed-door meeting will be the second this week on the Yemen crisis.

It estimates that 600,000 people live in the area, and in a worst-case scenario a battle could cost up to 250,000 lives, as well as cutting off millions of people facing starvation and disease from aid and supplies. "Humanitarians will not walk away", she told Reuters by telephone from Sanaa.

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".

CARE International, one of the few aid agencies still there, said 30 air strikes hit the city within half an hour. "Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes".

The request for the Security Council meeting came after the United Nations envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said he was still holding negotiations on keeping the key port open to aid deliveries.

The US position on Hodeidah continues to shift wildly, however.

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Civil war has raged in Yemen since late 2014, when the Houthis and allied forces seized north-western parts of the country, including the capital Sanaa, and eventually forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee overseas.

The conflict and a partial blockade by the coalition have also left 22 million people in need of humanitarian aid. "So we hold them and America responsible".

We are in regular contact with the Coalition about the need to ensure that any military operations in and around Hodeidah are conducted in accordance with global humanitarian law, including on the protection of civilians, and do not disrupt commercial and humanitarian flows through the port.

In Washington, the State Department's top Middle East official, David Satterfield, told lawmakers the United States was not assisting the operation in Hodeidah. The U.S. has been offering targeting information to the Saudi-led coalition, as well as refuelling their warplanes, though its role in Wednesday's assault wasn't immediately clear.

The UAE has said coalition forces plan to keep the port operational but warned that the Houthis could sabotage infrastructure and place land and sea mines as they withdraw.

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. Houthi forces have fired such missiles at ships previously.

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In a joint statement, the two sides shed light on the flagrant violations committed by the Houthi militias in Hodeida port, barring foreign assistance to be delivered to the needy inside Yemen, confiscating the contents of vessels waiting outside the docks of the port to unload the aid.

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