Houthi Leader's Brother May Be Dead in Offensive on Yemen's Hodeidah

Saudi-led coalition launches attack on Yemen’s ‘humanitarian lifeline’ of Hodeidah – reports

Battle for Yemen's biggest port under way

A Saudi-led alliance of Arab states launched an attack on Yemen's main port city on Wednesday in the largest battle of the war, aiming to bring the ruling Houthi movement to its knees at the risk of worsening the world's biggest humanitarian crisis.

"If the Houthis don't get out of Hodeidah city and the port, the UAE will start a military operation against the rebels in Hodeidah", Gargash was quoted as saying by the French daily.

Yemen's exiled government "has exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the Houthi militia from the port of Hudaida", it said in a statement.

The declaration was followed by airstrikes in and around Hoideidah port, hitting Houthi defences.

Planes and warships began pounding Houthi rebel fortifications and forces massed around Hodeida on Wednesday as a deadline for Houthis to leave the city passed.

By Wednesday evening, Emirati and Saudi forces were five kilometres south of the city's airport.

Fierce clashes were taking place. The government forces of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi fight the predominantly Shia-led Houthis with the help of Saudi Arabia and its allies. Grande on Monday said while the United Nations had relocated worldwide staff from the city, numerous local staff had chosen to stay to try to continue United Nations programs. "We made many concessions to avoid a military option".

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US said the attack would relieve Yemen's humanitarian crisis and ensure security for shipping in the Red Sea.

The Saudi-led coalition has been criticised for its air strikes which have killed civilians.

"Under global humanitarian law, parties to the conflict have to do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they need to survive", said Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.

To that end pro-government and UAE forces were trying to secure routes for civilians to leave the city and reach safer areas.

Relief ships affiliated with the Coalition are placed off the coast, waiting to dock in Hodiedah.

United Nations aid chief Mark Lowcock, who also briefed the council, said an attack on Hodeidah would be "catastrophic" and that aid agencies were hoping to "stay and deliver" in Yemen, which the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"We don't think the capturing of Hodeidah will damage the peace".

The United Nations says 8.4 million Yemenis are on the verge of starvation, and for most the port is the only route for food supplies. The coalition said it wanted to halt the smuggling of weapons to the rebels by Iran - an accusation Tehran denied - but the closure of Hudaydah for several weeks resulted in sharp increases in prices of basic commodities, accelerating food insecurity.

Reem al-Hashimy, the UAE minister of state for worldwide cooperation, has said if the port is wrested from the Houthis, the coalition could ease controls aimed at denying the group arms and ease the flow of goods and aid into Yemen, where millions face starvation and disease.

"The coalition's operations to liberate Hodeidah is part of the Coalition's unwavering commitment to support the people of Yemen against the tyranny imposed by Iranian-backed militias that are spreading chaos and destruction in Yemen", Khalid bin Salman wrote in a tweet. Though some officials have said the United States has been pushing the UAE not to attack the port, more recently the signs are that the USA intends to have its military participate in the attack itself.

However, so far, the port remains open, with supplies arriving.

The early stages of Wednesday's offensive followed statements from UAE and Saudi officials that military action was necessary.

Such action was "the Houthi response to worldwide calls for their peaceful retreat", he added.

The United Nations pulled all of its global staff out of Hodeidah on Monday.

United Nations envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths last week held several rounds of talks with the rebels in Sanaa. "Parties to the conflict must now prepare to bear responsibility for any violations of International Humanitarian Law, particularly the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructures such as medical facilities, schools and the port facilities, for which the U.N. Security Council must ensure accountability".

Yemen has been in crisis since the 2011 mass protests that ended then president Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule. Hadi came to power in a Saudi-brokered transition, but the Houthis drove him out.

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