Yemen forces launch assault on Hodeida port city: field commanders

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A Saudi military spokesman said the forces were drawing closer to the Red Sea port in a campaign aimed at driving out Iranian-aligned Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who have held Hodeida since 2015, and breaking the civil war's long stalemate.

The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government launched a fierce assault Wednesday on the crucial port city of Hodeida, the biggest offensive of the years-long war in the Arab world's poorest nation for the main entry point for food in a country already teetering on the brink of starvation.

The commanders spoke to an AFP correspondent in the town of Al Jah, approximately 30 kilometres (20 miles) southeast of rebel-held Hodeida.

Yemen has been devastated by civil war, with the Houthi movement trying to take control of the country and forcing President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee overseas.

Hodeidah, Yemen's biggest port and the only port controlled by the Houthis, serves as the lifeline for the majority of Yemen's population, which lives in Houthi-ruled territory.

The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya network reported that the "liberation" of Hudaydah began with a large-scale ground assault supported by air and naval cover.

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 Norwegian Refugee Council urged the United States, Britain and France to release "an immediate warning" against any attack on the city or the port of Hodeida.

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The Saudi-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes on the city. He said a senior official from the U.N. Secretariat would brief council members in closed consultations.

There was no immediate word from state media in either Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, which lead a coalition backing Yemen's exiled government.

"We hear sounds of explosions".

"Should we leave the Houthis smuggling missiles?"

The United Nations and other aid groups had pulled their worldwide staff from Hodeida ahead of the rumored assault.

Late Wednesday, the Saudi and Emirati governments announced what they called 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.

Griffiths warned in a statement earlier Wednesday that "further military escalation will have serious consequences on the dire humanitarian situation in the country" and hinder his efforts to restart political negotiations.

Before the war, over 70 percent of Yemen's food and fuel imports came through Hodeida, accounting for over 40 percent of the nation's customs income. Military sources said the deaths were caused by mines and snipers.

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