Arab states attack Yemen port key to feeding 8.4 million starving people

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The Security Council has strongly supported efforts by new United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths to resume political negotiations and avoid a military escalation of the three-year-long conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million, and created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

A Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government began an assault named Operation Golden Victory Wednesday morning on Yemen's port city of Hodeida, a crucial battle in the 3-year-old conflict that aid agencies warned could push the Arab world's poorest country into further chaos.

Before dawn on Wednesday, convoys of vehicles appeared to be heading toward the rebel-held city, according to videos posted on social media. The sound of heavy, sustained gunfire could be heard clearly in the background.

Responding to the early stages of the attack-which began with an estimated 30 Saudi airstrikes within half an hour, guided by USA military intelligence-Win Without War wrote on Twitter that the attack is "a dark moment of shame for the United States". The Saudi-led coalition has been criticized for its airstrikes killing civilians.

Yemeni residents in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida say the Saudi-led coalition has dropped leaflets advising them to stay away from military and security points, and to stay in their homes, amid the coalition's assault.

Local military sources said hundreds of Yemeni fighters as well as tanks and military supplies 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. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to brief journalists. Yemeni forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE massed around the key port city of Hodeida on June 13, 2018 in a bid to seize it from Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem al-Hashimy said if the port was no longer under Houthi control then the coalition could ease controls aimed at denying arms to the group by doing away with inspections at the Saudi port of Jizan.

The Red Sea port is the only port under Houthi control, situated about 150km southwest of the capital, Sanaa.

The war in Yemen has become the UAE's deadliest conflict, with the young nation losing more than 100 soldiers since the Saudi-led coalition went to war against the Iran-allied Yemeni rebels in March 2015.

The United Nations pulled all of its global staff out of Hodeidah on Monday. 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 now home to around 600,000 civilians, and around 80 percent of all humanitarian aid that flows into Yemen arrives at the city's port, which is now controlled by Houthi rebels.

Hodeidah, the only Yemeni port controlled by the Houthis, serves as a lifeline channeling food, medicines and other vital imports to the majority of Yemenis who live in Houthi-ruled territory.

Last week, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said the United States opposed any effort by the Emirates and Yemeni troops it backs to seize the city. We are concerned about missiles and shells.

Jolien Veldwijk, acting director for Care International in Yemen, told Al Jazeera that the port of Hudaida is crucial for aid agencies to be able to do their work. In August 2015, air strikes disabled four giant mobile cranes, drastically slowing the unloading of food until they were replaced by the U.S. - which supports the coalition - this January.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had said that U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths was in "intense negotiations" in an attempt to avoid a military confrontation.

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