Saudi Arabia Continues to Bomb Yemeni Port City of Hodeida As UN Seeks Solution
Air strike in Sana'a, Yemen (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nearly 5,000 families have been displaced in Yemen's flashpoint Hodeida province this month, the UN said today, as violence escalates in the rebel-held Red Sea region of Yemen's port of Hodeida. At least 139 combatants have already been killed since the launch of a Saudi-Arabia led offensive began last week, according to medical and military sources.

The UN is reportedly at an "advanced stage" in talks to take over the Yemeni port of Hodeida, but until it does fighting continues to rage between the Saudi-led Arab coalition, and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

After nearly a month of sporadic clashes, the Yemen’s internationally recognised government -- backed by Saudi Arabia and its allies -- on June 14 launched a major assault to retake the densely populated city of Hodeida, capital of the province and home to the war-torn country's most vital port.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said 4,458 households had been displaced from their homes in Hodeida since June 1, with 36 families losing their livelihood as their farms were damaged in the conflict.

The fight for Hodeida has sparked fears of a fresh humanitarian crisis in a country where more than 22 million people are in need of aid, including 8.4 million who are at risk of starvation.

The Yemen war has claimed some 10,000 lives since a regional coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, joined the government's fight against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The UN has called for restraint as Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths holds talks with the Houthis on potentially ceding control of Hodeida port to the international body.

Martin Griffiths has proposed to rebel leaders that they cede control of the Red Sea port to a UN-supervised committee to avoid further fighting with advancing government troops which are backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

More than 70 per cent of Yemeni imports pass through Hodeida's docks and the fighting has raised UN fears of humanitarian catastrophe in a country already teetering on the brink of famine.

The rebels have controlled the Hodeida region with its population of some 600,000 people since 2014.

Earlier this year, the Saudi-led coalition imposed a near-total blockade on the city's port alleging that it was being used as a conduit for arms smuggling to the rebels by its regional arch rival Iran.

The capture of Hodeida would be the Saudi-led coalition's biggest victory of the war so far and on Thursday rebel leader Abdel Malek Al-Huthi called on his forces to put up fierce resistance and turn the region into a quagmire for coalition troops.

The Yemeni army today claimed it had seized control of the rebel base at Hodeida's disused airport, which has been closed since 2014.

An AFP correspondent on the front line could not confirm the news.

A spokesman for the Saudi-coalition, which has ground troops taking part in the Hodeida offensive, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. There was no immediate word from the rebels.

The army had said yesterday it was two kilometres from the airport, which lies to the south of the vital docks. The United Nations and relief organisations have warned that any all-out assault on the city would put hundreds of thousands of people at risk.

The fighting is already nearing densely populated residential areas, the Norwegian Refugee Council warned, and aid distributions have been suspended in the west of the city.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said thousands were likely to flee if the fighting continued.

On Thursday, the UN Security Council demanded that Hodeida port be kept open to vital food shipments but stopped short of backing a Swedish call for a pause in the Saudi-backed offensive to allow for talks on a rebel withdrawal.

The Yemen war has claimed some 10,000 lives since the coalition intervened in 2015 when President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi fled into exile when Houthi rebels overran much of the country.

More than 22 million Yemenis are in need of aid, including 8.4 million who are at risk of starvation, according to the UN, which has described the conflict as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. (With Agency inputs)