Saudi-led assault on Yemen port begins despite dire warnings

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The Donald Trump administration today denied providing support for the Saudi-led Arab coalition's assault on the key Yemeni port of Hodeidah amid questioning from skeptical United States lawmakers.

The Red Sea port, controlled by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who hail from northern Yemen, serves as the entry point for 70 percent of the impoverished country's imports as it teeters on the brink of starvation.

Before dawn Wednesday, convoys of vehicles appeared to be heading toward the rebel-held city, according to videos posted on social media. The sound of intense and continuous shots could be heard clearly in the background.

Late Thursday, Saudi Arabia's United Nations ambassador said there were two ships, each carrying 5,000 tons of food, ready to dock immediately at the port of Hodeida.

"Our imminent victory in Hodeidah will be the ... gateway to retrieving our kidnapped capital and exerting the influence of the government over every inch of the country", he said.

TRT World's Editor-at-large Ahmed al-Burai explains what's behind the Hudaida assault.

Satellite TV sets of the Saudi capital, and later state media, announced the beginning of the battle by citing military sources.

Yemen's government in exile said its forces and the Saudi-led coalition's troops launched the assault after "exhausting all peaceful and political means". But it said that their fighters fired two missiles on a coalition warship off the port city, claiming the killing of dozens of coalition soldiers.

"The targeted ship was carrying troops prepared for a landing on the coast of Hudaida", the channel said. A Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict in March 2015.

Forces loyal to Yemen's exiled government and irregular fighters led by Emirati troops had neared Hudaida in recent days.

Hodeidah is a city of around 600,000 people, and the lone port city under the control of the Shi'ite Houthi rebels.

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The government and the coalition accuse Iran of backing the Houthis in a bid to destabilize its regional nemesis Saudi Arabia.

The UAE, which is involved in the ground assault, had given the Houthis a deadline of Wednesday morning to withdraw from Hodeidah or face attack.

"Hodeidah is a lifeline for millions and millions of Yemenis", Iolanda Jaquemet, a spokeswoman from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told RT.

ICRC spokesperson Iolanda Jaquemet spoke to TRT World.

He added that Houthi militias continue to obstruct UN mediation efforts to end the conflict, leading special UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffith to propose handing over control of Hodeidah port to the UN, which is the same proposal made by the coalition many months ago.

"Equally vital is that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Huthi forces ensure the flow of aid and essential goods isn't impeded in any way, as millions of people remain at risk of starvation across the country".

Through this period and in many occasions, the Arab coalition has called for an worldwide action to put a halt to rockets and weapons smuggling through aid campaigns entering Yemen from Hodeidah port, demanding to no vain, that the global community should send humanitarian organizations to monitor the aid shipment entering Yemen.

June 2015: A US airstrike kills al-Qaida's number 2, the head of its Yemeni branch, Nasir al-Wahishi.

Despite the fighting, the United Nations is still supplying aid. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, has warned that the assault would leave hundreds of thousands of Yemenis vulnerable and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the famine- and cholera-racked country. Four civilians were reportedly killed and at least two more injured in those airstrikes.

Jolien Veldwijk, acting country director for the charity CARE International called the attack "catastrophic, hopeless and devastating", worsening hunger as food will become harder to find and more expensive. "We thought it could not get any worse, but unfortunately we were wrong".

Meanwhile, the United Nations special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, said he was continuing to negotiate on keeping Hudaida open and urged all sides to exercise restraint.

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