The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government captured a town south of the port city of Hodeida on Thursday as fierce fighting and airstrikes pounded the area on the second day of an offensive to capture the strategic harbor that is the main entry point for food in a country teetering on the brink of starvation.
The Red Sea port, controlled by Iran-aligned rebels known as Houthis, is the main point of entry for food and medicine in the war-torn country, which is already on the brink of starvation.
Before dawn Wednesday, convoys of vehicles appeared to be heading toward the rebel-held city as heavy gunfire rang out, according to videos posted on social media.
The assault, part of an operation dubbed "Golden Victory", began with coalition airstrikes and shelling by naval ships, according to Saudi-owned satellite news channels and state media. Some 2,000 troops who crossed the Red Sea from an Emirati naval base in the African nation of Eritrea landed west of the city with plans to seize Hudaida's port, Yemeni security officials said.
"The liberation of the port is the start of the fall of the Houthi militia and will secure marine shipping in the Bab al-Mandab strait and cut off the hands of Iran, which has long drowned Yemen in weapons that shed precious Yemeni blood", Yemen's Arab-backed government-in-exile said in a statement.
Emirati-led troops have advanced along the southwestern coast to the outskirts of Hodeidah under a coalition strategy to box in the Houthis in the capital Sanaa and choke off their supply lines to force them to the negotiating table. But if the battle is prolonged, it will leave millions of Yemenis without food, fuel and other vital supplies.
"The battle for Hodeidah will nearly certainly result in a huge loss of civilian life and damage to vital infrastructure", said Tamer Kirolos, Yemen Country Director for Save the Children.
May 2017: The Houthis say they fired a ballistic missile at the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
The port city of Hudaida is crucial for incoming aid, food and medicine for a nation driven to the brink of starvation by the conflict and a Saudi-led blockade.
It estimates 600,000 people live in the area, and in a worst-case scenario a battle could cost up to 250,000 lives, as well as cutting off millions from aid and supplies.
Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which intervened against the Huthis in 2015 with the goal of restoring Yemen's government to power, have pledged to ensure a continuous flow of aid to the Arab world's poorest nation.
There were even a few scant claims that USA military advisers were on board the coalition warship when it was hit, but Pentagon Spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway told Business Insider that there are no United States military advisers on the ground and he said he hadn't even heard of the ship getting hit.
It reported that the coalition forces made up of troops from Saudi, UAE and Sudanese army, as well as local Yemeni forces from the southern separatist groups and a brigade commanded by General Tareq Saleh, a nephew of slain former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Around two-thirds of the country's population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.
The TV station said the legitimate forces gathering in Al-Durayhemi district and nearby areas, around 10 km south of Hodeidah.
Yemeni residents in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida say the Saudi-led coalition has dropped leaflets advising them to stay away from military and security points, and to stay in their homes, amid the coalition's assault. The U.N. special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has said the world body is talking to both sides to de-escalate.
The coalition has not formally announced the commencement of the final phase of the operation to capture the city, but aid organisations were reportedly warned on 9 June that the UAE had given them three days to withdraw their personnel and intensified bombing was reported on 13 June.
"We walked on foot with nothing but the clothes on our backs", she said of her and her extended family members, who walked some 10km.
"As we have seen in post-ISIS Mosul, improving the humanitarian situation significantly, requires reinstating legitimate government institutions and providing continued robust worldwide support".