Battle rages for airport in key Yemen aid hub

'They have stormed the airport': Yemen's war intensifies in Hodeidah

The news conference came as the United Arab Emirates leads Yemeni fighters in an assault on the rebel-held port city of Hodeida that has been criticized by global rights groups.

Intense fighting erupted Tuesday around the airport in rebel-held Hodeida in western Yemen as Saudi-backed government forces mounted a new offensive to capture the area, military sources said.

Saudi-led airstrikes on Tuesday heavily bombed Houthi positions and snipers who took over rooftops in Hodeida as forces battled to take control over the airport of the city.

It lies just 8km from the city's port, through which three-quarters of Yemen's imports pass, providing a lifeline for some 22 million people dependent on aid.

UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths left Sanaa on Tuesday, wrapping up a four-day visit during which he spoke with leaders of the Shia Houthi rebel group.

During the war, the Saudi-led coalition has disrupted food and other supplies coming into Yemen by imposing a naval blockade on ports including Hodeidah, which they have said are used to smuggle in weapons. Tehran has denied the allegation.

Rebel-held Hodeida is the latest battlefront in a three-year war that has seen Yemen, long the most impoverished Arab country, pushed to the brink of starvation.

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Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi said military "operations will continue on various fronts until (the capital) Sanaa and the whole territory" are retaken from the rebels.

"The so-called relief plan announced by the Arab coalition in Yemen must be seen for exactly what it is; a justification to launch an attack that will have catastrophic consequences", she asserted in a statement.

At least 156 Huthis and 28 soldiers were killed in the fight for the airport, according to Hodeida hospital sources.

Hodeidah's port is the conduit through which as much as 80 percent of Yemen's food, medical and commercial supplies enters the country. He declined to offer the nationalities nor the numbers of troops now fighting in the Saudi-led coalition around Hodeida, only saying it had "numerical superiority" over the Houthis. Houthi media said coalition warplanes had carried out more than 40 strikes on the airport since the morning. It could also give an edge to the Western-backed military alliance which, despite superior weaponry and firepower, has failed to defeat the group in a war that has killed 10,000 people.

The Houthis seized control of Sanaa in September 2014, later pushing south toward the port city of Aden.

Speaking through video conference from Sanaa, Griffiths told the Security Council that he would launch a first round of peace talks next month, according to a press conference held at the United Nations headquarters in NY following the closed session.

The rebels have so far agreed only to share control of the port with the United Nations.

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