'Catastrophic' risk of death for 300,000 Yemeni children trapped by attack

A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched an offensive Wednesday on a key port in Yemen held by rebels, despite worldwide warnings such an assault could be catastrophic.

According to Dubai-based Al Arabiya, Yemeni troops have gained control of the city's southern district of Nekheila.

Iranian-aligned Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies for years have held the Red Sea port, crucial to food supplies in a nation on the brink of starvation after years of war. People fled by routes to the north and west.

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 battle for Hodeidah will nearly certainly result in a huge loss of civilian life and damage to vital infrastructure", said Tamer Kirolos, Yemen Country Director for Save the Children. "Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes", said Jolien Veldwijk, the acting country director of the aid group CARE International, which works in Hudaida.

"Under worldwide 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, UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen.

The initial battle plan appeared to involve a pincer movement.

The UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said the world body was talking to both sides to try to avert a battle. "We call on them to exercise restraint & engage with political efforts to spare Hodeida a military confrontation", he tweeted.

United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi said there was a danger Yemenis might try to flee across the sea to Somalia or Djibouti.

Western countries, particularly the United States and Britain, have quietly backed the Arab states diplomatically and sell them billions of dollars a year in arms, but have mostly avoided direct public involvement so far in the Yemen conflict.

GettyImages-967150000
Saudi-Led Alliance Gears up for Assault on Key Yemeni Port City

Over 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's civil war, which has displaced two million more.

The United States, Britain and France all sell billions of dollars of weapons a year to the Arab countries.

The assault comes following the expiry of a deadline set by the UAE for the Houthis, who hold Sanaa, to hand over the port that has been under their control for years.

Earlier the Yemeni government confirmed in an official statement that it has exhausted all political and peaceful means to remove the Houthi militia from the port of Hodeidah, and pointed out that the Houthis has used the port of Hodeidah as a corridor to smuggle Iranian weapons to prolong the conflict and kill the people of Yemen.

The alliance intervened in Yemen to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and thwart what Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see as the expansionist aims of their Shi'ite foe, Iran.

A separate Yemeni-UAE force was advancing on the city from the south, near the city's airports, the officials said.

Yemeni forces massing around Al Hudaydah are a mix of local fighters, those loyal to President Hadi, and supporters of the ex-head of state, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The UAE has said coalition forces plan to keep the port operational but warned that the Houthis could sabotage infrastructure and place land and sea mines as they withdraw. There was no immediate confirmation from the coalition.

The renewed push on Hodeidah comes amid increased tensions between Saudi Arabia and arch-foe Iran after the United States withdrew last month from an global nuclear agreement with Tehran, a move hailed by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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