UAE military vessel ATTACKED by Yemeni-Houthi rebels in Red Sea

Battle for Yemen's biggest port under way

"Liberation of the port of Hodeida is a milestone in our struggle to regain Yemen from the militias".

Jolien Veldwijk, acting director for Care International in Yemen, told Al Jazeera that the port of Hudaida is crucial for aid agencies to be able to do their work.

The UN Security Council is due to meet behind closed doors on Thursday - at the request of Britain - over the attack on Hodeida, diplomats said. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to brief journalists.

A draft for a United Nations peace plan for Yemen exclusively seen by Reuters calls on the Houthi movement to give up its ballistic missiles in return for an end to a bombing campaign from a Saudi-led coalition.

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.

"All peaceful and political means of removing the Huthi militia from Hodeida port have been exhausted", the government said in a statement carried by Yemen's state news agency Saba. But the first wave of this relatively high-tech assault by irregular Houthi forces occurred back on October 2nd, 2016 when the high-speed logistics catamaran HSV-2 Swift was destroyed by an anti-ship missile.

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United Nations chief Antonio Guterres met Yemen's foreign minister at the United Nations headquarters in NY on Monday. Urban battles, however, will jeopardise civilian lives and risk bogging down assault forces.


In a statement responding to the potentially catastrophic attack on Hodeidah, Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, took aim at both the U.S. and the United Kingdom for providing crucial political and military support for the Saudi-led assault, arguing that such complicity reveals "the true face of their foreign policy".

Exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and many of his advisers now live in Saudi Arabia after Shiite rebels known as Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014. "The Saudi coalition has not advanced at all in Hodeidah".

The biggest battle in a three-year war, which has already created the world's biggest humanitarian crisis, centers on Hodeidah, the main route for food and aid to reach most Yemenis, 8.4 million of whom are on the verge of starvation.

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

The United Nations says it remains in Yemen's Red Sea port of Hodeida, the target of a new offensive by a Saudi-led coalition, and is working with aid groups to help those affected by the conflict. Robert Mardini, regional head for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said the attack was "likely to exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian situation".

"Addressing the humanitarian situation in a sustainable and effective manner requires liberating Yemen from the control of Houthi militias, which intentionally disrupt the flow and distribution of humanitarian supplies". The sound of heavy, sustained gunfire clearly could be heard in the background.

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Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle in Iranian-made weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities.

The importance of Hodeidah lies in the fact that it has one of the key strategic ports on the Red Sea Coast.

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.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande announced recently that "as many as 250,000 people may lose everything -even their lives", if there is a military attack on Hudaydah.

In Hodeidah, people waited anxiously for the fighting to reach their neighbourhoods.

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The United Nations said it was engaged in "intense" shuttle diplomacy between the Houthis and coalition leaders Saudi Arabia and the UAE to avert the attack.

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