By Stefan J. Bos
Yemeni pro-government forces are closing in on a rebel-held airport in Yemen's Red Sea port city of Hodeida. The Hodeida offensive, which is being backed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, began Wednesday.
It has reportedly killed some 140 fighters in recent days and sparked fears among the area's 600,000 residents.
Hodeida's airport captured
On Saturday, Yemeni forces claimed to have captured Hodeida's airport from the anti-government Huthi rebels as part of efforts to take over this well-defended city.
Hodeida and its seaport have been under Huthi rebels control since 2014 when the Iran-backed insurgents drove the government out of the capital Sanaa and much of this struggling nation. They also forced Yemen's President, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, to flee into exile.
The capture of Hodeida would be the Saudi-led coalition's most significant victory against the Huthi rebels in a three-year war that has claimed over 10,000 lives and displaced millions.
United Nations' Warnings
But the offensive began despite United Nations warnings that it could spell disaster across Yemen, a country already teetering on the brink of famine.
Britain's UN Ambassador Karen Pierce echoed those concerns. "Now the military operation is underway we look to all parties to act in accordance to international humanitarian law [and respect] the protection of civilians," she told reporters.
The UN Security Council has called for Hodeida's port to be kept open for food and other humanitarian supplies. Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates have promised to allow aid to reach the Arab world's most impoverished nation.
On Saturday, UN special envoy Martin Griffiths arrived in Yemen's capital Sanaa for emergency talks on the situation at the port.
He was expected to propose to the Houthis that they cede control of Hodeida to a United Nations-supervised committee to avoid further fighting as millions of people could face imminent starvation.