A Saudi-led alliance of Arab states launched an attack on Yemen's main port city on Wednesday in the largest battle of the Yemen war, aiming to bring the ruling Houthi movement to its knees at the risk of worsening the world's biggest humanitarian crisis.
Fierce fighting has been reported after pro-government forces in Yemen, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, launched an offensive on the rebel-held city of Hudaydah, a key port for aid supplies. Aid agencies say the coastal city provides a vital route for food and medicine and that millions of people are at risk of starvation if goods can not pass through it.
The U.N. Security Council is due to meet behind closed doors on Thursday - at the request of Britain - over the attack, diplomats said. Instead, he declared: "I have spoken with Emirati leaders and made clear our desire to address their security concerns while preserving the free flow of humanitarian aid and life-saving commercial imports".
Potential casualties among the city's population of 400,000 remain the biggest concern of the humanitarian agencies, as well as the United Nations, which has called on the warring parties to spare civilian lives.
Responding to the early stages of the attack-which began with an estimated 30 Saudi airstrikes within half an hour, guided by U.S. military intelligence-Win Without War wrote on Twitter that the attack is "a dark moment of shame for the United States".More news: Mercedes forced to recall hundreds of thousands of cars
It estimates 600,000 people live in the area, and in a worst-case scenario a battle could cost up to 250,000 lives, as well as cutting off millions from aid and supplies.
They were supported by ground operations by Yemeni troops south of the vital port.
Saudi Arabia intervened in support of the government of Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who remains in exile in Saudi Arabia.
The Spokesman of the Yemeni national Resistance pointed out that the operation to liberate Hodeidah goes side by side with a comprehensive humanitarian relief plans to help the people of the city to overcome the difficulties caused by the blockade imposed by the Houthi militias, who adopted the tactics of starvation and intimidation of civilians as part of foreign agenda to destabilise Yemen. In 2015, the ex-president had allied himself with the Houthis, but two years later shifted his allegiance to the Saudi-led forces, only to be killed by Houthi militiamen last December. Both the Saudi and Emirati rulers and Washington have claimed that the port of Hodeidah has been used by the Houthis to import arms from Iran, but no evidence has been presented to support this allegation.
Yemeni women and children wait during food distribution in Hodeida, Yemen, May 30, 2018. However, Griffiths' recent appointment as envoy and his push for new negotiations may have encouraged the Saudi-led coalition to strengthen its hand ahead of any peace talks with the Houthis.More news: Fed raises interest rates and predicts faster pace of future increases
"Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes", said Jolien Veldwijk, the acting country director of the aid group CARE International, which works in Hodeida.
Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the USA, 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.
"The current & illegal Houthi occupation of Hodeida is prolonging the Yemeni war".
The UN and Western nations say Iran has supplied the Houthis with weapons, from assault rifles to the ballistic missiles they have fired deep into Saudi Arabia, including at the capital, Riyadh. UNICEF said an attack would put approximately 300,000 children in the city at risk.More news: Comcast Makes $65 Billion Offer to Buy 21st Century Fox