With Explicit US Backing, Saudi Attack on Yemen's Humanitarian Lifeline Begins

With Explicit US Backing, Saudi Attack on Yemen's Humanitarian Lifeline Begins

The attack on the Red Sea port aimed to drive out Iranian-aligned Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who have held Hodeida since 2015, and break the civil war's long stalemate.

The battle for Hodeida, if the Houthis do not withdraw, would be the first major urban melee battle for the Saudi coalition, which can be lethal for both combatants and civilians.

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

"Today I heard warplanes hovering and the sounds of explosions", a 20-year-old woman, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told Al Jazeera.

Saudi-owned satellite news channels and state media soon announced the battle had begun, citing military sources. Houthi forces have consistently failed to adhere to UN Security Council Resolutions, including by launching missile attacks against Saudi Arabia and shipping in the Red Sea.

Emirati-led troops have advanced along the southwestern coast to the outskirts of Hodeidah under a coalition strategy to box in the Houthis in the capital Sanaa and choke off their supply lines to force them to the negotiating table.

The liberation of Hodeidah Port and the continuation of its operations effectively by the Yemeni General Authority for Transport along with the Saudi Ports Authority and its UAE counterpart would lead to the flow of more relief, food and commercial shipments.

The Saudi-led coalition has been criticised for its air strikes which have killed civilians. Over 150 ballistic missiles have been fired into the kingdom by the Houthis, according to Saudi officials.

"Any closure of the port, even for a few days, will have a dramatic impact on the humanitarian operations in the country", the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, told The Associated Press Thursday.

The United Nations says 22 million Yemenis need humanitarian aid, and the number at risk of starvation could more than double to more than 18 million by year-end unless access improves.

The biggest battle in a three-year war, which has already created the world's biggest humanitarian crisis, centers on Hodeidah, the main route for food and aid to reach most Yemenis, 8.4 million of whom are on the verge of starvation.

The Saudi-UAE attack is part of the coalition's continuing military effort, again with American assistance, to topple the Houthi regime and restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled the country almost four years ago.

For the last three years the Saudi-led coalition hasn't made any major advances. The Houthis, from a Shi'ite minority, deny being Iran's pawns and say they took power in a popular revolt and are defending Yemen from invasion.

With anti-government forces embedded in the city, military victory in Hodeida "seems a very tall order" and an assault on the city would only lead to further bloodshed, he warned.

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 Iran-backed Huthi rebels who control the Red Sea port city - home to 600,000 people - reported "two enemy air strikes on the (Hodeida) area" via their news outlet Al-Masirah.

April 2015: The U.N. Security Council imposes an arms embargo on the Houthis and demands they pull back from territory they have captured. "We are in constant contact with all the parties involved to negotiate arrangements for Hodeida that would address political, humanitarian, security concerns of all concerned parties", he said. Around two-thirds of the country's population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving. Grande on Monday said while the United Nations had relocated global staff from the city, numerous local staff had chosen to stay to try to continue United Nations programs.

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