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Fighting moves closer to Yemen’s main port city

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View of the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen June 24, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

ADEN (Reuters) – Yemen’s Houthis deployed additional forces in the main port city of Hodeidah yesterday as a Saudi-led military coalition moved closer to the city center in the largest offensive of the war, raising UN fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched its assault on the heavily defended Red Sea city on June 12 to try to weaken the Iran-aligned Houthi movement by cutting off a key supply line for the group which controls the capital Sanaa and most populated areas.

Coalition forces seized the airport on Wednesday and have been consolidating their hold in the area as UN efforts continued to reach a political deal that would avert an assault on the port, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.

The United Nations fears the escalation in fighting could exacerbate what is already the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, with 22 million Yemenis dependent on aid and an estimated 8.4 million believed to be on the verge of starvation.

The Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to restore the internationally recognised government in exile, but since then neither side has made much progress in the war, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Houthis have indicated they would be willing to hand over management of the port to the United Nations, sources told Reuters. A US official said Washington was urging the Saudis and Emiratis to accept the deal.

The coalition has pledged a swift military operation to take over the airport and seaport without entering the city center, to minimize civilian casualties and maintain the flow of goods.

“This is the final, fragile moment in which it may still be possible for UN-led negotiations to prevent a destructive fight that is likely to exacerbate dire humanitarian conditions and further delay broader negotiations to end the war.”

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