Coalition launches offensive on Yemen port despite USA, worldwide warnings

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On Wednesday, the Saudi-led coalition launched an air and ground offensive on Hudaida, Yemen's third largest city, in the biggest battle in the three-year war between the coalition and Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels. The sound of heavy, sustained gunfire clearly could be heard.

Satellite TV sets of the Saudi capital, and later state media, announced the beginning of the battle by citing military sources. Houthi media did not immediately report the attack.

"All peaceful and political means of removing the Houthi militia from Hodeida port have been exhausted", the government said in a statement carried by Yemen's state news agency Saba. The port is about 150km southwest of Sanaa, Yemen's capital, which is also held by Houthis.

"The port is a lifeline to much-needed supplies of food and other life-saving resources and any attack would jeopardise the ability of this country to feed itself".

The vessel was located off the coast of Hodeidah, which is a strategic port that the Saudi-led coalition have been targeting. Over 150 ballistic missiles in all have been fired into the kingdom by the Houthis, according to Saudi officials.

Before the war, over 70% of Yemen's food and fuel imports came through Hodeidah, accounting for over 40% of the nation's customs income.

In a statement on Thursday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi strongly condemned the aerial and naval strikes by the Saudi-led military coalition on Yemen's Red Sea port of Hudaydah.

The U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, warned that a prolonged siege of the port could lead to the deaths of up to a quarter-million Yemenis due to starvation and disease.

That kicked off an intense air campaign that the United Nations says is responsible for the majority of the estimated 6,439 civilians killed and the more than 10,000 wounded and that it unleashed a cholera epidemic that has hit an estimated 1 million people.

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He went on: "In this House, mention is hardly ever made of the humanitarian abuses by the Houthi forces", who had "consistently failed to adhere to UN Security Council resolutions: they have, for instance, launched missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, prevented access to humanitarian supplies - which has led to significant damage to civilians - and prevented vital vaccinations". Days earlier, Saleh had reached out to the Saudi-led coalition, indicating he might switch sides.

The global aid group warned of a "high risk of a second outbreak" should water supplies be disrupted.

The UAE, a driving force in the coalition, said four of its troops were killed on the first day of the offensive.

The Saudi-UAE attack is part of the coalition's continuing military effort, again with American assistance, to topple the Houthi regime and restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled the country almost four years ago. They say they took power through a popular revolt against corruption and are now defending Yemen from an invasion by its Western-backed neighbours.

The rebels have said they will "confront the coalition of aggression on all fronts".

"As we have seen in post-ISIS Mosul, improving the humanitarian situation significantly, requires reinstating legitimate government institutions and providing continued robust worldwide support".

The Saudi-UAE coalition, which pressed ahead with the strikes despite global calls to refrain, argues that it will liberate the port from Houthi militias who, it says, are using it to smuggle weapons and divert the flow of aid.

"The attacks we have feared and warned against are no longer impending, but underway", the Norwegian Refugee Council's acting country director Christopher Mzembe said Thursday.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said members of the invading coalition as well as the USA and Britain must be held accountable for the raid and a consequent escalation of humanitarian crisis.