Yemeni govt. launches offensive on Hodeidah

Battle for Yemen's biggest port under way

Emirati forces with Yemeni government troops moved in from the south near Hodeida's airport, while others sought to cut off Houthi supply lines to the east, the officials said.

Yemeni officials say Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have hit most of the Houthi rebel defenses of Hodeida as part of the coalition's assault on the key Red Sea port town.

Saudi-owned satellite news channels have announced the start of the Saudi-led coalition's assault on Hodeida.

The attack is expected to lead to a protracted and bloody confrontation, putting "literally hundreds of thousands of people... into a life-threatening situation", Lise Grande, United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, told U.S. radio station NPR.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's civil war, which has displaced 2 million others and helped spawn a cholera epidemic.

Early on Wednesday, convoys of vehicles headed towards the rebel-held city as heavy gunfire rang out.

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

Worldwide aid agencies and the United Nations have warned the assault could shut down the vital aid route for some 70 percent of Yemen's food, as well as the bulk of humanitarian aid and fuel supplies.

The United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, called on the warring sides on Wednesday to avoid a battle for the port city of Hodeidah and return to the negotiating table.

The president of Yemen Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi
The president of Yemen Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi

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 Red Sea port is the main entry for food into a country on the brink of starvation. Already, Yemeni security officials said some were fleeing the fighting.

The officials spoke on condition in anonymity because they weren't authorized to brief reporters.

Yemen's exiled government "has exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the Houthi militia from the port of Hodeida", it said in a statement. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015.

Meanwhile, diplomats in the region told The New York Times that "only pressure from Washington, which sells tens of millions of dollars of weapons to the United Arab Emirates and to Saudi Arabia every year, could stop the assault".

Aid groups have expressed grave concerns for the safety of hundreds of thousands of civilians in the city whose lives could be at risk from the assault launched Wednesday.

"We hear sounds of explosions".

The aid group Oxfam said humanitarian organizations received warnings over the weekend for staff to evacuate Hodeida by Tuesday ahead of an offensive.

"I am extremely concerned about military escalation in #Hodeida & their humanitarian & political impact", he said in a tweet.

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