France to weigh possibility to carry minesweeping operation at Yemen port

Yemeni children receive food aid in the coastal city of Hodeida

Arab warplanes and warships pounded Houthi positions in Hodeidah on Thursday as a Saudi-led alliance, which includes Emirati forces, tried to seize the main port in the largest battle of a war that has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"We have enough food for now, but we don't know if we'll have more of it if the port completely shuts down", 18-year-old Safaa, who requested her real name to be withheld, said.

Impoverished Yemen has remained wracked by violence since 2014, when the Houthis - from their historical stronghold in the northern Saada province - overran much of the country, including capital Sanaa.

But a Huthi attack some 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the city provided a diversion, cutting loyalist forces off from the government-held ports of Khokha and Mokha, sparking fresh clashes along the coastline.

"The fighting is getting close to the al-Manzar area near the airport and people are fleeing in fear", said Mohammed Abdullah, an employee of the Houthi administration in the city.

The United States rejected a UAE request for intelligence, minesweeping and airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets for the military operation in Yemen's Hodeidah, a UAE official said on Thursday.

View of the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, June 14, 2018.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said on Friday that retaking Hodeidah port from the Houthis would mean the rebels would no longer be able to impose their will on Yemen and would force them to negotiating table.

"It is the lifeline of the country", said Lise Grande, the top United Nations humanitarian official in Yemen, to my colleagues.

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Ahmed al-Kawkabani, who leads a force known as the Tohama Brigade, tells The Associated Press on Friday that fighting is ongoing at the town of Dawar-al-Hodeida at the outskirts of the city.

The Red Sea port of Hodeida is the main entry for food into a country already on the brink of starvation.

Yemen's internationally recognised government earlier pronounced negotiations had failed to force the rebels from Hodeida, and a grace period for UN-led peace efforts was over.

Meanwhile, United Arab Emirates' ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva said on Thursday that four Emirati troops were killed in Yemen while taking part in the campaign to retake the port city.

The UN official further called on Yemen's warring camps "to meet their obligations to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and... respect worldwide humanitarian law". Even though the death toll could not be ascertained, the United Nations said last week that in a worst-case scenario as many as 2,50,000 people could be killed in the offensive. "The worldwide community must pressure the Houthis to evacuate Hodeida and leave the port intact".

With logistical support from the United States, the Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out attacks inside Yemen since March 2015, killing at least 10,000 people, in an attempt to reinstate the internationally recognised government of President Abu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

About 80 percent of humanitarian relief goods for the country are transported through the port.

The ship was struck during the initial Saudi-led coalition assault on the Yemeni city of Hodeidah, which is spearheaded by the UAE and codenamed Golden Victory. The rebels have been raining ballistic missiles down on Saudi cities from across the border. The UAE official said the operation was part of an effort to break the military stalemate between the coalition and the Houthis, who the USA and the coalition view as being armed and backed by Iran. He said it would take Arab forces about 72 hours to clear mines from Hodeidah's port or airport once it captures them.

According to the kingdom's embassy in the USA, the spokesperson for its military coalition argued on Wednesday "that the current regional and global concerns, due to the Iranian-backed Houthi militias' destabilizing efforts, will be attenuated after the liberation of Hodeidah, and that normal life will return to the city".

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