Saudi Arabia, UAE, launch attack on Yemen's port city of Hudaida

Battle for Yemen's biggest port under way

Saudi-Led Alliance Gears up for Assault on Key Yemeni Port City

The member countries of the Saudi-led Arab Coalition in Yemen are aiming to improve the humanitarian conditions across the areas to be liberated in Al Hodeidah city, to be on par with the other areas that have been liberated from the grip of the Houthis in Yemen's Red Sea Coast and to help the Yemeni people to overcome the dire conditions caused by the terrorist practices of the elements of the militias.

The United Nations and other aid groups already had pulled their worldwide staff from Hodeida ahead of the rumored assault. The aim is to box in the Houthis in Sanaa, cut their supply lines and force them to the negotiating table.

The United Nations had led an intensive diplomatic push to avert the offensive, which the Saudi-led coalition, and especially the United Arab Emirates, had always been determined to pursue. The city and surrounding area are home to 600,000 people, and the port is the main route for food and aid to reach most Yemenis, 8.4 million of whom are on the verge of starvation.

For a little more than three years, Yemen has been locked in a seemingly intractable civil war that has killed almost 10,000 people and pushed millions to the brink of starvation.

In fact, the Trump Administration has become an increasingly vocal backer of the coalition, sharing its concerns about Iranian support for the Houthis, and in deference to close military partners like the United Arab Emirates.

Yemen's United Nations humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande said a "worst case" in an assault on Hodedia would mean 250,000 people "losing everything - even their lives".

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had said that UN envoy Martin Griffiths was in "intense negotiations" in an attempt to avoid a military confrontation.

The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Wednesday for all sides to protect civilians. An assault was "likely to exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian situation", Red Cross spokeswoman Marie-Claire Feghali said. 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.

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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday acknowledged the US continues to provide support to the Saudi-led coalition.

The political transition was supposed to bring stability to Yemen, one of the Middle East's poorest nations, but President Hadi struggled to deal with various problems including militant attacks, corruption, food insecurity, and continuing loyalty of many military officers to Saleh.

It wasn't immediately clear what specific American support the coalition was receiving Wednesday.

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.

The Sunni Muslim Gulf states intervened in Yemen to restore the exiled government and thwart what Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see as expansionist objectives of their Shi'ite foe Iran.

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

UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem al-Hashimy said if the port was no longer under Houthi control then the coalition could ease controls aimed at denying arms to the group by doing away with inspections at the Saudi port of Jizan. The accusations are denied by the group and Iran.

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