Four UAE soldiers killed in assault on Yemen's Hudaida

  • Four UAE soldiers killed in assault on Yemen's Hudaida

Four UAE soldiers killed in assault on Yemen's Hudaida

With a "green light" from the Trump administration and essential military support from the USA government, Saudi-led forces plowed ahead with an assault on the Yemeni port city of Hodeida on Wednesday, brushing aside dire warnings from worldwide humanitarian organizations and a small group of American lawmakers that an attack on the key aid harbor could spark a full-blown starvation and endanger millions of lives.

The Red Sea port, controlled by Iran-aligned rebels known as Houthis, is the main point of entry for food and medicine in the war-torn country, which is already on the brink of starvation. Locals reported convoys of vehicles speeding toward the city, and heavy gunfire was reported around the outskirts of the city.

Aid agencies say the coastal city provides a vital route for food and medicine and that millions of people are at risk of starvation if goods can not pass through it.

Saudi-owned satellite news channels and later state media announced the battle had begun, citing military sources. Houthi media did not immediately report the attack.

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

"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.

With anti-government forces embedded in the city, military victory in Hodeida "seems a very tall order" and an assault on the city would only lead to further bloodshed, he warned.

The US also helps the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen with "limited intelligence sharing", aerial refueling for coalition jets, and training to make coalition airstrikes more precise, Major Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesperson, previously told Business Insider.

The United Nations and worldwide aid organizations pulled staff out of the city and surrounding area before the deadline.

The UN human rights office OHCHR estimates that at least 6,439 civilians have been killed and more than 10,000 injured since Saudi-backed forces began air strikes in Yemen in 2015. Saudi-led airstrikes have killed large numbers of civilians and damaged vital infrastructure.

Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities - accusations denied by the group and Iran.

Humanitarian organisations had developed "contingency plans" for the event of an attack affecting the 600,000 people living in and around Hodeida, she said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had said that U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths was in "intense negotiations" in an attempt to avoid a military confrontation. Griffiths' recent appointment as envoy and his push for new negotiations may have encouraged the Saudi-led coalition to strengthen its hand ahead of any peace talks with the Houthis. He said the U.N. Security Council must act to secure a cease-fire before the people of Hodeida "suffer the same fate as those in Aleppo, Mosul or Raqqa".

The UN and International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile, said that all parties in Yemen's war must protect civilians.

The attack also comes as Washington has been focused on U.S. President Donald Trump's recent summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

He said "aid operations will be severely challenged in the event of sustained fighting in densely populated urban areas" and stressed that people trying to flee conflict areas "must be allowed to do so without any hindrance". "We have a ship offloading food even as shelling and bombing is happening", Grande said.

The Sunni Muslim Gulf states intervened in Yemen to restore the exiled government and thwart what Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see as expansionist objectives of their Shi'ite foe Iran.