Saudi-led forces begin assault on Yemen port city of Hodeida

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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.

"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", said Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.

It would be the first time since they joined the war on behalf of Yemen's exiled government that the foreign armies have attempted to capture such a well-defended major city.

"Under global 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.

Local military sources said hundreds of Yemeni fighters as well as tanks and gear from the UAE arrived on Monday to reinforce troops, including Emiratis and Sudanese, in al-Durayhmi, a rural area 10 km (6.21 miles) south of Hodeidah.

A United Nations political envoy for Yemen had been shuttling between the Houthis, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to try to reach a political solution to avert the assault on Hodeidah.

Aid agencies have said the battle may exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian situation in a country devastated by three years of civil war.

Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, who has threatened attacks on tankers, warned the alliance not to attack and said on Twitter his forces had struck a coalition barge.

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Saudi-Led Alliance Gears up for Assault on Key Yemeni Port City

Saudi Arabia's Western allies, which sell arms to coalition states, have not said publicly if they approve of the assault.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's civil war, while the United Nations says Iran has supplied the Houthis with weapons from assault rifles up to the ballistic missiles. The port is the main entry point for food and humanitarian aid supplies that millions rely on in Houthi-controlled areas.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande announced recently that "as many as 250,000 people may lose everything -even their lives", if there is a military attack on Hudaydah. "We thought it could not get any worse, but unfortunately we were wrong". This has made it by far the most important port for humanitarian aid, with estimates that as much as 70% of aid comes through the port. In a report on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal confirmed that the U.S.is providing the Saudis with "intelligence to fine-tune their list of airstrike targets" in Hodeida.

It wasn't immediately clear what specific American support the coalition was receiving Wednesday.

They aim to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, driven into exile in 2014.

The coalition says one of the main justifications for its intervention is to protect Red Sea shipping, which brings Middle East oil and Asian goods to Europe through the Suez Canal.

The operation to retake the vital port city from the Houthis was launched on Wednesday morning, after the rebels rejected an ultimatum and refused to surrender the city by the end of Tuesday, a deadline set by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Al Arabiya reports. 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.

Hodeidah is a city of around 600,000 people, and the lone port city under the control of the Shi'ite Houthi rebels. The coalition said it wanted to halt the smuggling of weapons to the rebels by Iran - an accusation Tehran denied - but the closure of Hudaydah for several weeks resulted in sharp increases in prices of basic commodities, accelerating food insecurity.

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