Saudia Arabia attack on Yemen: Hodeidah assaulted by warships and warplanes

Street vendor sells vegetables in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah

A Saudi-led coalition geared up on Tuesday for an assault on Yemen's main port, preparing to launch by far the biggest battle of a three-year-old war between an alliance of Arab states and the Houthi movement that controls Yemen's capital.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV announced the attack, citing military sources.

The projectile was sacked from Yemen's Saada province towards the Saudi city of Jizan "intentionally targeting" residential areas, said coalition spokesman Turki Al Malki in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

"The liberation of Hodeidah port is a turning point in our struggle to recapture Yemen from the militias that hijacked it to serve foreign agendas", the exiled government said in a statement carried by state-run Yemeni media.

Reem al-Hashimy, the UAE minister of state for worldwide cooperation, has said if the port is wrested from the Houthis, the coalition could ease controls aimed at denying the group arms and ease the flow of goods and aid into Yemen, where millions face starvation and disease.

UAE-backed Yemeni forces - drawn from southern separatists, local units from the Red Sea coastal plain and a battalion led by a nephew of late former president Ali Abdullah Saleh - are fighting alongside Emirati and Sudanese troops.

The United Nations - which has been evacuating staff this week - had warned that an attack on the densely populated city could cost up to 250,000 lives.

The attack also comes as Washington has been focused on President Donald Trump's recent summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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"During the long study and calculation, we found that as many as 250 000 people lost everything they had - even my life". United Nations -backed peace talks between the Houthis and the Yemeni government were last held in Kuwait in August 2016.

Last week, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said the USA opposed any effort by the Emirates and Yemeni troops it backs to seize the city.

The White House also warned: "The United States has been clear and consistent that we will not support actions that destroy key infrastructure or that are likely to exacerbate the dire humanitarian situation that has expanded in this stalemated conflict".

The civil war in Yemen has killed about 10,000 people over the past three years and created what the United Nations says is the world's worst humanitarian disaster. The conflict has also caused a cholera outbreak and brought the already impoverished nation to the verge of starvation.

Before the war, over 70 percent of Yemen's food and fuel imports came through Hodeida, accounting for over 40 percent of the nation's customs income.

UAE Junior Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash told the BBC that the coalition had run out of patience with diplomatic efforts after a previous 48-hour deadline expired. 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".

The U.N. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Wednesday for all sides in Yemen's war to protect civilians.

Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities - accusations denied by the group and Tehran.

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