Dozens Killed as Saudi-Led Forces Launch Yemen Port Strikes

Yemeni forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition gather near the outskirts of the western port city of Hodeidah Yemen June 12 2018. Najeeb Almahboobi  EPA

The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government captured a town south of the port city of Hodeida on Thursday as fierce fighting and airstrikes pounded the area on the second day of an offensive to capture the strategic harbor that is the main entry point for food in a country teetering on the brink of starvation.

The United Arab Emirates says it has started flying and sailing aid to Yemen's port city of Hodeida, where its troops in a Saudi-led coalition are fighting Shiite rebels.

The government has spent much of its time in neighbouring Saudi Arabia since Houthi rebels seized control of Sanaa and other areas in the north-west of the country in late 2014.

But a Huthi attack some 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the city provided a diversion, cutting loyalist forces off from the government-held ports of Khokha and Mokha, sparking fresh clashes along the coastline.

The United Arab Emirates' ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva says the four Emirati troops who were killed in Yemen were taking part in the campaign to retake the port city of Hodeida.

The United States rejected a request from the UAE for intelligence, mine-sweeping and airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets for the Hodeidah operation, a UAE official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, while noting congressional opposition.

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The Houthi-run Al Masirah satellite news channel aired footage it described as being from near Hodeida showing a burned-out truck, corpses of irregular fighters and a damaged Emirati armoured vehicle.

Aid groups have warned for months that an assault on the port could disrupt the flow of relief supplies to Yemeni civilians, including an estimated eight million people who are at risk of starvation. The government is supported by Saudi Arabia and others.

Almost 40 people have been killed in fighting outside Yemen's Hudaydah port, medical sources say.

On Wednesday, the Saudi-led coalition launched a major operation to recapture the port of Al-Hudaydah - a vital supply line for humanitarian aid entering the war-torn country.

Russian Ambassador VassilyNebenzia, who holds the council presidency, said, that during a closed-door meeting, members of the Security Council expressed their "deep concern about the risks to the humanitarian situation".

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But in Yemen's protracted civil war, which has killed approximately 10,000 people and led to tens of thousands more deaths from sickness and starvation, global aid agencies are wary of predictions by the Saudis and the Emiratis that they could snatch a quick victory in Hodeida's complex urban environment. 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 by its neighbours.

Meanwhile, with UAE active participation and support, the Arab Coalition and resistance forces are advancing on multiple axes towards the Hodeidah after depleting the rebels' military and human capabilities in the a large-scale decisive operation to retake the Hodeidah city from the grip of the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

Council members "reiterated their call for the ports of Hodeida and Saleef to be kept open", said Nebenzia.

"France has always emphasised that the port city of Hodeidah is one of Yemen's key gateways to bring commercial and humanitarian goods to the civilian population", it added.

The Iran-backed rebels claimed in a statement that the missile hit a Saudi air base.

Saudi Arabia and UAE government have announced a "multi-faceted plan" to protect civilians in Hodeida, including establishing routes for food, medical supplies and oil shipments from Saudi Arabia's southern city of Jizan and the UAE's capital, Abu Dhabi.

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An administration official acknowledged that the coalition would like the U.S.to get more involved militarily in the battle to free the port, but so far that has not happened. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Monday that the USA expressed its "desire to address [UAE] security concerns" in Yemen, so long as humanitarian aid efforts are preserved.

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