Saudi coalition strikes kill 250 Houthi rebels in heavy fighting

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"We hear sounds of explosions". In a report in January, the panel cited the fact that ships coming into the port face random inspections, require United Nations approval and that no weapons have been seized since March 2017.

Yemen's exiled government says their forces and allied Saudi-led troops launched their assault on Hodeida only after "exhausting all peaceful and political means".

It also reported that four Emirati soldiers had died in Yemen, without specifying whether the deaths were tied to the Hodeidah operation.

A Saudi-led coalition has begun an assault on the Yemen port city of Hodeida with aid agencies warning 300,000 children are at risk of being killed or maimed.

A Yemeni anti-Houthi military official said the alliance had brought to bear a 21,000-strong force. Days earlier, Saleh had reached out to the Saudi-led coalition, indicating he might switch sides. The Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy, deployed in an area that includes the Red Sea, derived the questions regarding the offensive to the Pentagon, which did not respond to requests for comments immediately.

"Our imminent victory in Hodeidah will be the ... gateway to retrieving our kidnapped capital and exerting the influence of the government over every inch of the country", he said.

Hodeida is some 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Sanaa, Yemen's capital, which has been in Houthi hands since September 2014.

The United Nations and other aid groups already had pulled their global staff from Hodeidah before the rumoured assault. The aim is to box in the Houthis in Sanaa, cut their supply lines and force them to the negotiating table.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's civil war, which has displaced 2 million more and helped spawn a cholera epidemic. The U.S. has provided the Saudi-led coalition logistical support. Over 150 ballistic missiles in all have been fired into the kingdom by the Houthis, according to Saudi officials.

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The offensive is controversial because the port serves as the entry point for 70 to 80 percent of Yemen's imports, as the country teeters on the brink of starvation.

Prince Khalid added in a separate tweet that the Saudi-led coalition's operations in Hodeidah are important in light of the increased threat the militias controlling the port have been posing for maritime security in the Red Sea.

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He said "aid operations will be severely challenged in the event of sustained fighting in densely populated urban areas" and stressed that people trying to flee conflict areas "must be allowed to do so without any hindrance". Some 8.4 million people in Yemen face pre-famine conditions, according to the World Health Organization.

Nevertheless, the United Nations envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has continued to hold talks on keeping Hodeida open and has urged all sides to exercise restraint.

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. The International Committee of the Red Cross, Hodeib said, had relocated 71 staff members outside Yemen, leaving some 400 aid workers in the country.

The Trump administration tried to dissuade the coalition from launching the offensive, with Pompeo saying in a statement Monday that he "made clear our desire to address their security concerns while preserving the free flow of humanitarian aid and life-saving commercial imports". "The British told us a week ago that the Emiratis and the Saudis had told them they would not enter the battle of Hodeidah without their agreement and assistance". He said the U.N. Security Council must act to secure a cease-fire before the people of Hodeida "suffer the same fate as those in Aleppo, Mosul or Raqqa".

The Saudi-UAE attack is part of the coalition's continuing military effort, again with American assistance, to topple the Houthi regime and restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled the country almost four years ago.

Asked whether he anxious the Shiite rebels known as Houthis would damage the crucial Yemen port, the ambassador said: "They will damage it, but we have plans for that".