A massive assault, complete with air and artillery strikes, is underway against rebel forces in Yemen’s key port city of Hodeida. But aid agencies say the offensive has choked off food and supplies to civilians trapped inside the city.
Aid agencies have called for a halt to the Saudi-led coalition’s assault on Yemen’s key port city of Hodeida, saying the humanitarian crisis has progressed to the point “half the country doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from”.
The assault, complete with air and artillery strikes, on Al Houthi rebel-held Hodeida started last Wednesday with Arab coalition troops attempting to force the militants from the city - an entry point for an estimated 70 per cent of Yemen’s food.
United Nations and NGO personnel were ordered to evacuate the city the day before the attack began, and Oxfam’s Yemen country director Muhsin Siddiquey said the situation was now critical for the civilians stuck inside what has become a battlefield.
“About half the people of Yemen don’t know where their next meal is coming from... it’s hard to imagine how life for the people of Yemen could get any more difficult,” he told SBS News.
“The country is on the brink of collapse."
He said airstrikes, carried out in support of ground troops loyal to Yemen’s government in exile attempting to retake Hodeida’s international airport, have destroyed buildings and caused injuries.
Many fled the city before the assault, with the UN estimating 26,000 people managed to evacuate as rebel and loyalist forces clashed.
“To avert catastrophe, we call on the international community, including the UN Security Council, to call for de-escalation and restraint, and to exert pressure and take action to ensure the parties keep Hodeida and Saleef ports open and uphold their obligation under international humanitarian law to protect civilians,” Mr Siddiquey said.
“There is time for all parties to navigate a path to peace and save countless lives, and the international community must continue to stand up for this peace.”
The UN has called for the port to remain open, allowing food, drinking water, medical supplies and aid to keep flowing in an effort to stave off mass starvation.
UN Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, who arrived in the capital on Saturday, is still locked in negotiations to keep the major port open.
Hodeida and Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, has been under Al Houthi control since 2014.
About 70 per cent of the impoverished country’s imports come through Hodeida, but the city is now blockaded by both sea and ground, with the coalition claiming it was being used to smuggle in weapons from Iran.
Yemen has been wracked by a bloody civil war for three years as rebels and the Yemeni government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, fight for supremacy.
The war has devastated the country’s infrastructure and killed an estimated 10,000 people, with aid agencies estimating more than 22.2 million people are now in need of assistance.