Hodeida assault intensifies as France considers minesweeping operations after Saudi-UAE requestr
Fighting has intensified around the vital rebel-held Yemeni port city of Hodeida, battlefield commanders said on Friday, as the Saudi-led coalition intensifies its campaign to retake the city from Iranian-backed Houthis.
In an official statement released by the rebels, a ballistic missile was fired on soldiers, however, no casualties were reported.
The increased campaign comes at a time when millions of Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid al-Fitr, literally, the breaking of the fast, at the end of a month of fasting the Muslim holy month Ramadan.
Celebrations, however, have not spread to Hodeida, where people fear an imminent siege and are fleeing the intense government shelling.
Dozens of pro-government fighters have been killed, mainly from land-mines and roadside bombs, reported Yemeni officials.
Ahmed al-Kawkabani, a Yemeni who leads a force known as the Tohama Brigade, told the Associated Press that his forces are currently positioned at the Hodeida roundabout.
The Saudi-led assault began on Wednesday to seize Hodeida's vital port which, before the war, accounted for over 70 percent of Yemen's food and fuel imports, making over 40 percent of the nation's customs income.
The port remains crucial for incoming aid, food and medicine for a nation driven to the brink of famine by the conflict and a Saudi-led blockade.
UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash said that winning the battle for the Red Sea port is essential to break the stalemate in the war.
Seizing the port "means that the Houthis will no longer be able to impose their will at the barrel of a gun", he said in a post on Twitter. "If they keep Hodeida and its revenues and its strategic location, the war will last a long time and (add to) the suffering of the Yemeni people."
The United Nations has raised alarm over the military operation, which could cripple deliveries of commercial goods and humanitarian aid to millions in Yemen who are on the brink of famine.
More than 22 million people in Yemen are in need of aid, including 8.4 million who are at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations.
Aid groups have pulled staff from the town over the deteriorating security situation and warned of catastrophic consequences.
Save the Children on Wednesday said 300,000 children were in the line of fire.
In a statement it said it was "extremely concerned" that the port in Hodeida will be closed and "despite repeated warnings of the devastating impact this will have, a famine is becoming a real possibility, with hundreds of thousands of lives at risk".
While the US has backed the Saudi-led Arab coalition, Congress allegedly denied a request for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assistance amid the humanitarian fears.
Requests were diverted to France, which said it will consider minesweeping the port of Hodeida after the end of military operations.
"Its purpose would be to facilitate the safe transport of humanitarian aid to the city's population," the French defence ministry said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia has been leading a military campaign to push back the Houthis after the rebels seized the capital Sanaa in 2014 and restore the internationally recognised government to power.
The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people and left tens of thousands wounded in what has been described by the UN as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.