A Saudi-led coalition has launched an assault on Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah in the biggest battle of a three-year war between an alliance of Arab states and the Iran-aligned Houthis.
Coalition warplanes and warships pounded Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by Yemeni troops massed south of the country’s largest port, the internationally recognised Yemeni government in exile said.
The Golden Victory operation began after the passing of a deadline set by the United Arab Emirates for the Houthis, who hold the capital Sanaa and the main populated areas of Yemen, to quit the sole port under their control.
The Red Sea port is a lifeline for Yemenis, handling 80 per cent of essential goods to the impoverished country, which the United Nations says is grappling with the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
About 8.4 million people in Yemen face pre-famine conditions, according to the World Health Organisation.
Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi warned the Western-backed alliance not to attack the port and said on Twitter his forces had targeted a coalition barge.
Houthi-run Al Masirah TV said two missiles struck the barge, but there was no immediate confirmation from the coalition.
The United Nations had been trying to get the parties to reach a deal that would avert an attack on Hodeidah, which it fears would further impede Yemenis’ access to food, fuel and medicine for millions of Yemenis facing disease, including a cholera epidemic.
It estimates that 600,000 people live in the area, and in a worst-case scenario, a battle could cost up to 250,000 lives, as well as cutting off aid and other supplies to millions of people.
ICRC spokeswoman Marie-Claire Feghali said the assault was “likely to exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen”, where water and electricity networks are vital to the civilian population’s survival.