Saudis, UAE vow to protect civilians in Yemen

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The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government captured a town south of the port city of Hodeida on Thursday as fierce fighting and airstrikes pounded the area on the second day of an offensive to capture the strategic harbor that is the main entry point for food in a country teetering on the brink of starvation.

Yemeni forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition launched an assault on Wednesday, June 13, to recapture the port city of Hodeida, which has been controlled by the Iran-allied Huthi rebels along with the capital Sanaa since 2014.

The battle for Hodeida, if the Houthis do not withdraw, would be the first major urban melee battle for the Saudi coalition, which can be lethal for both combatants and civilians.

Social media users shared video of what appeared to be a convoy of vehicles approaching the crucial port city early Wednesday morning. The sound of heavy, sustained gunfire clearly could be heard in the background.

A Houthi statement warned commercial ships in the Red Sea, one of the world's most important trade routes, to stay 20 miles from coalition warships or potentially face attack.

"The liberation of the port is the start of the fall of the Houthi militia", Yemen's exiled government said of the attack.

Emirati-led troops have advanced along the southwestern coast to the outskirts of Hodeidah under a coalition strategy to box in the Houthis in the capital Sanaa and choke off their supply lines to force them to the negotiating table. "The administration and the Saudis should take this language as yet another clear signal that Congress will not stand idly by as the US-supported coalition continues to kill and starve civilians in Yemen with impunity". Over 150 ballistic missiles have been fired into the kingdom by the Houthis, according to Saudi officials.

Global aid groups cautioned the threat of a major humanitarian catastrophe was growing as fighting drew closer to Hodeida, with the United Nations estimating some 600,000 people live in and around the city.

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Over 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's civil war, which has displaced 2 million more and helped spawn a cholera epidemic.

Iran's Foreign Ministry condemned an ongoing Saudi-led military attack on Yemen's western port city of Hudaydah, voicing concern about deterioration of the humanitarian crisis in the war-stricken country.

Yemen's government said Wednesday that negotiations had failed to force the Houthis from Hudaida, and that a grace period for UN-led peace efforts was over. "We already gave the United Nations the chance to operate from this seaport, and (the Houthis) refused". "We thought it could not get any worse, but unfortunately we were wrong", said CARE acting country director, Jolien Veldwijk.

The Houthis deny they are Iranian pawns and say their revolt aims to target corruption and defend Yemen from invaders.

Griffiths was reportedly offered ending of coalition bombing campaign against Houthi movement in return that Houthis hand over Hodeidah port city to a third party under United Nations supervision and give up ballistic missiles and join a national unity government.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Yemen's Foreign Minister Khaled Alyemany on Monday that every effort must be made to "avoid a fierce, bloody battle for Hodeida", a UN spokesman said.

We are in regular contact with the Coalition about the need to ensure that any military operations in and around Hodeidah are conducted in accordance with global humanitarian law, including on the protection of civilians, and do not disrupt commercial and humanitarian flows through the port. It said: "The Emiratis have informed us today that they will now give a three-day grace period for the United Nations (and their partners) to leave the city". 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.

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