Saudi coalition strikes kill 250 Houthi rebels in heavy fighting

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Yemeni women and children wait during food distribution in Hodeida, Yemen, May 30, 2018.

The United Nations on Monday withdrew its worldwide staff from Hodeida, saying an attack would "impact hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians".

The humanitarian assistance being sent by worldwide organizations have been looted by the Houthis in control of Hodeida port, while also preventing goods and oil derivatives from entry, causing famine, starvation and poverty inside the province, the report said.

The official United Arab Emirates news agency WAM confirmed that the operation was ongoing "with the participation and the support, through land and sea and air, of the Emirati armed forces".

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 so improve the flow of goods and aid into Yemen. Houthi forces have consistently failed to adhere to UN Security Council Resolutions, including by launching missile attacks against Saudi Arabia and shipping in the Red Sea.

"Trump and his close ally, [UK Prime Minister] Theresa May, have been escalating military involvement in Yemen without pushing for a political settlement to the Saudi-led war", German said.

The US position on Hodeidah continues to shift wildly, however.

A view of the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, May 10, 2017.

The attack could mark a new phase of the war - the first urban fighting in the conflict.

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Residents of the city have been experiencing a relative calm prior to the assault.

United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi said there was a danger Yemenis might try to flee across the sea to Somalia or Djibouti.

The rebels have said they will "confront the coalition of aggression on all fronts".

Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa.

Human rights groups say airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition have killed and wounded thousands of civilians, often in indiscriminate attacks.

They say the fighting is raging in the coastal areas of ad-Durayhimi district. An alliance of Yemeni forces supporting the internationally recognised government is leading the ground assault.

The United Nations said it was engaged in "intense" shuttle diplomacy between the Houthis and coalition leaders Saudi Arabia and the UAE to avert the attack.

Yemen's exiled government says their forces and allied Saudi-led troops launched their assault on Hodeida only after "exhausting all peaceful and political means".

In a joint statement, the two sides shed light on the flagrant violations committed by the Houthi militias in Hodeida port, barring foreign assistance to be delivered to the needy inside Yemen, confiscating the contents of vessels waiting outside the docks of the port to unload the aid.

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Civil war has raged in Yemen since late 2014, when the Houthis and allied forces seized north-western parts of the country, including the capital Sanaa, and eventually forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee overseas. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015 and has received logistical support from the U.S.

The Houthis did not immediately acknowledge the start of the battle.

The Saudi-led coalition did not immediately acknowledge the incident.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV quoted witnesses describing "concentrated and intense" bombing near the port itself.

Emergency crews struggled to save sailors on the ship as it was sinking, and Strategic Sentinel reports that "several fatalities" resulted from the clash between the UAE ship and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

Early on Wednesday, convoys of vehicles headed toward the rebel-held city as heavy gunfire rang out.

"Today I heard warplanes hovering and the sounds of explosions", a 20-year-old woman, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told Al Jazeera.

The United Nations and other aid groups already had pulled their global staff from Hodeida ahead of the rumored assault.

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