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Saudi-led coalition launches attack on Yemen's Hodeidah

13 June 2018

A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition and its local allies launched a long-anticipated offensive on the Yemeni port city of Hodeida early Wednesday, opening a new front in the country's intractable civil conflict and raising fears for millions of civilians.

The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of conducting indiscriminate and unlawful airstrikes, as well as blocking food, fuel, and medicine into Yemen, according to Human Rights Watch.

It cited American military officials as saying that the U.S. is helping the UAE develop a list of targets meant to be off limits for airstrikes on Hudaydah, with an apparent aim to minimize civilian casualties. The sound of heavy, sustained gunfire could be heard clearly in the background.

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

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The conflict escalated dramatically in March 2015, when Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states - backed by the US, UK, and France - began air strikes against the Houthis, with the declared aim of restoring Mr Hadi's government.

Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi's brother and 16 more senior members of the rebel movement may have been killed when the Saudi-led coalition struck their meeting ground in the militia-controlled port of Hodeidah in western Yemen, the Saudi Khabar Ajil media outlet reported on Wednesday.

Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash earlier told French newspaper Le Figaro the deadline for a withdrawal from Hudaida by the Houthis expired early on Wednesday morning. The United Nations and worldwide aid organizations pulled staff out of the city and surrounding area before the deadline.

Both the United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross has called on all sides in Yemen's war to protect civilians following the latest air and ground assault.

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"Under worldwide humanitarian law, parties to the conflict have to do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they need to survive", Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, told Reuters by e-mail. The support has continued despite worldwide alarm over the coalition's air campaign against the Houthis, which has killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes that human rights groups have alleged are frequently indiscriminate. Meanwhile, the UN and western nations say Iran has supplied the Houthis with weapons from assault rifles up to the ballistic missiles they have fired deep into Saudi Arabia, including at the capital, Riyadh. The port is the main entry point for food and humanitarian aid supplies that millions rely on in Houthi-controlled areas.

Yemen's United Nations humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande said a "worst case" in an assault on Hodedia would mean 250,000 people "losing everything - even their lives". "This is possibly what we're most concerned about".

The Trump Administration, which provides military support to the coalition, had asked the Emirates to hold off on beginning an operation until after United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths presented a new plan for jump-starting peace talks.

Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S., said addressing the humanitarian situation effectively "requires liberating Yemen from the control of Houthi militias" which he said disrupt the flow and distribution of humanitarian supplies.

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"It's providing any intel, or anything we can give to show no-fire areas where there are civilians, where there are mosques, hospitals, that sort of thing", Mattis said.

Saudi-led coalition launches attack on Yemen's Hodeidah