United Nations warns against consequences of Saudi-led attack on Yemen's Hudaydah


United Nations warns against consequences of Saudi-led attack on Yemen's Hudaydah

Arab states launch biggest assault of Yemen war with attack on main port

Arab states launch biggest assault of Yemen war with attack on main port

The operation to retake the vital port city from the Houthis was launched on Wednesday morning, after the rebels rejected an ultimatum and refused to surrender the city by the end of Tuesday, a deadline set by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Al Arabiya reports.

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

The assault marks the first time the Arab states have tried to capture such a heavily-defended major city since they joined the war three years ago against the Iran-aligned Houthis, who control the capital Sanaa and most of the populated areas.

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

"We fear that a prolonged attack or siege on Hodeidah could be catastrophic for civilians", Lise Grande, the UN's head Yemen humanitarian coordinator, previously told the Wall Street Journal, adding that 250,000 of the city's 400,000 people could be killed.

"The liberation of Hudaydah port is a turning point in our struggle to recapture Yemen from the militias that hijacked it to serve foreign agendas", the exiled government said in a separate statement carried by state-run Yemeni media.

The news came Wednesday night after U.S. military officials said that the USA is helping the Saudi-led coalition choose targets that will minimize civilian casualties.

The alliance intervened in Yemen to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was driven from the capital Sanaa and into exile in 2014.

The Houthis deny they are Iranian pawns and say their revolt aims to target corruption and defend Yemen from invaders.

A man carries the body of a child recovered from the site of a Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa Yemen
A man carries the body of a child recovered from the site of a Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa Yemen

On Monday, the UN Security Council voiced support for diplomatic efforts to avert the attack on Hodeidah. "This is possibly what we're most concerned about".

The United Nations and other aid groups already had pulled their worldwide staff from Hudaida ahead of the expected assault.

"It's providing any intel, or anything we can give to show no-fire areas where there are civilians, where there's mosques, hospitals, that sort of thing - [and] aerial refuelling, so nobody feels like I've got to drop the bomb and get back now", he said.

The U.N. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Wednesday for all sides in Yemen's war to protect civilians.

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.

Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities - accusations denied by the group and Iran.

Saudi media is reporting that the official start of the attack on the Yemeni port of Hodeidah.

Yemen lies beside the southern mouth of the Red Sea, one of the most important trade routes in the world for oil tankers, which pass near Yemen's shores while heading from the Middle East through the Suez Canal to Europe.