KHOKHA (Yemen) • Yemeni forces seized Hodeida airport yesterday in a major step towards retaking the rebel-held port city after a week of fighting that has left nearly 350 people dead.
Fresh clashes later erupted between UAE-backed government forces and the Iran-allied rebels, a Yemeni army source said.
Residents said coalition aircraft were bombing Houthi positions on roads leading to the airport as the group dug in against the onslaught to take the city, the Houthis' main port and the lifeline for millions of Yemenis.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki told Al Arabiya television in Brussels that the alliance was now destroying Houthi fortifications near the airport and he accused the group of placing tanks inside residential areas.
The escalation in fighting has wounded civilians, forced many to flee their homes and hampered humanitarian agencies, which are concerned about a potential cholera outbreak in the densely populated city as fighting cuts off water supplies.
"We have been stuck in our houses for five days because we are afraid of going out due to the fighting. Our food supplies will run out within a week and there is no water," Ms Fatima, 56, said, adding that bottled water was very expensive.
At least 156 Houthis and 28 soldiers were killed in the fight for the airport, according to Hodeida hospital sources. That raised the death toll in the week-old battle for the city to 348. No civilian casualties have yet been confirmed.
WORLD'S MOST URGENT HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
Yemenis dependent on aid.
Number of people believed to be on the verge of starvation.
The airport is disused, but housed a major rebel base just inland from the coast road into the city from the south.
It lies 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.
"Hodeida port is operating as normal and the movement of ships is normal," Col Al-Malki said. "We have humanitarian and development plans for when we liberate the city."
UN envoy Martin Griffiths held four days of talks in the rebel-held capital Sanaa in a bid to avert an all-out battle for the city but flew out on Tuesday without announcing any breakthrough.
On June 13, Yemen's army and its allies launched their offensive to clear Hodeida of rebel fighters who have held it since 2014, raising UN concerns for vital aid shipments and food imports through the city's docks.
The United Nations fears the offensive will worsen what is already the world's most urgent humanitarian crisis, with 22 million Yemenis dependent on aid and an estimated 8.4 million believed to be on the verge of starvation.
UN officials estimate that in a worst-case scenario, the fighting could cost up to 250,000 lives, especially if a cholera epidemic occurs in the widely impoverished region.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS