A Saudi-led alliance of Arab states launched the largest assault of Yemen's war on Wednesday with an attack on the main port city, aiming to drive the ruling Houthi movement to its knees at the risk of worsening the world's biggest humanitarian crisis.
Yemen has been engulfed in a civil war since Iranian-backed Houthis overthrew the Yemeni government and seized control of the capitol three years ago. 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 U.S. military intelligence-Win Without War wrote on Twitter that the attack is "a dark moment of shame for the United States".
The coalition announced a five-point aid plan for the Hodeidah port and surrounding areas, including the establishment of a shipping lane to Hodeidah from the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, and Jizan, a city in southern Saudi Arabia.
"All peaceful and political means of removing the Houthi militia from Hodeida port have been exhausted", the government said in a statement carried by Yemen's state news agency Saba. The Houthis swept into Yemen's capital, Sanaa, in 2014 and the coalition entered the war the following year. The port is the lifeline to much-needed supplies of food and other life-saving resources and any attack would jeopardize the ability of this country to feed itself.
It is the first time the Saudi-led coalition of mostly Gulf states has tried to capture such a well-defended major city in Yemen.
Through this period and in many occasions, the Arab coalition has called for an worldwide action to put a halt to rockets and weapons smuggling through aid campaigns entering Yemen from Hodeidah port, demanding to no vain, that the global community should send humanitarian organizations to monitor the aid shipment entering Yemen.
A Saudi military spokesman described forces drawing closer to Hodeida (hoh-DY'-duh), through which some 70 percent of Yemen's food enters via the port, as well as the bulk of humanitarian aid and fuel supplies in this country on the brink of starvation.
The UN has warned that in a worst-case scenario, the battle could cost up to 250,000 lives and cut off aid supplies to millions of people.
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Some 22 million people, or 80 percent of the Yemeni population, are in need of humanitarian aid, while more than half of the country is left without basic medical services.
The U.N. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Wednesday for all sides in Yemen's war to protect civilians. There was no immediate confirmation from the coalition.
The worldwide aid group warned of a "high risk of a second outbreak" should water supplies be disrupted.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and a bloc of other countries intervened in Yemen in 2015 with the goal of restoring the government to power. 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".
Field commanders said that troops pushed towards Hodeida airport after Yemeni pro-government forces received a "green light" from the coalition.
The UAE has said coalition forces plan to keep the port operational but warned that the Houthis could sabotage infrastructure and place land and sea mines as they withdraw.
The Houthis deny they are Iranian pawns and say their revolt aims to target corruption and defend Yemen from invaders.
The Yemeni rebel group Ansar Allah (the Houthis) claimed on 13 June that it repelled an amphibious landing by the Saudi-led coalition when it hit a naval ship with two missiles earlier in the day.
"As we have seen in post-ISIS Mosul, improving the humanitarian situation significantly, requires reinstating legitimate government institutions and providing continued robust global support".