A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched an offensive Wednesday on a key port in Yemen held by rebels, despite worldwide warnings such an assault could be catastrophic.
Yemen has been engulfed in a civil war since Iranian-backed Houthis overthrew the Yemeni government and seized control of the capitol three years ago. The battle for Hodeida, if the Houthis don't withdraw, also may mark the first major street-to-street urban fighting for the Saudi-led coalition, which can be deadly for both combatants and civilians alike.
"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.
Everything from U.S. Navy destroyers to tanker ships have been attacked by Houthi rebels in the southern Red Sea, with Saudi Arabian naval ships being struck a number of times. Almost 18 months since he last stepped foot in the country, Hadi returned to the southern Yemeni city of Aden to reportedly support his forces against the Houthis.
The United Nations and other aid groups already had pulled their worldwide staff from Hodeidah before the rumoured assault.
Medical sources in the region said 22 Houthi fighters had been killed in coalition strikes.
Before the war, over 70 percent of Yemen's food and fuel imports came through Hudaida, accounting for over 40 percent of the nation's customs income.More news: Justify: Racing's $75-Million Horse?
The Yemeni army and resistance forces, aided by the Arab coalition, officially launched the battle to liberate the city and port of Hodeidah, west of Yemen, on Wednesday at dawn after the Houthis rejected peaceful solutions. "We are there and delivering, we are not leaving Hodeidah", said Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.
The United Nations says 22 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian aid, with 8.4 million on the verge of starvation - a figure that could rise to 10 million by the end of this year, For most, the port is the only route for food supplies.
In addition to selling the UAE and Saudi Arabia billions of dollars' worth of bombs and other weapons used in Yemen, the United States has previously provided midair refueling support that has been integral to their air campaign for the past three years.
On Thursday, a senior UAE official said the Trump administration has rejected requests for military assistance in the coalition attack on Hodeida.
Pro-government troops began the assault on Wednesday despite mounting worldwide fears about the humanitarian fallout, pressing toward Hodeida airport south of the city after receiving a "green light" from the coalition. Around two-thirds of the country's population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.
Saudi Arabia, which intervened against the Iran-backed Huthis in 2015 with the goal of restoring Yemen's government to power, has pledged to ensure a continuous flow of aid to its neighbour.
"We are in constant contact with all the parties involved to negotiate arrangements for Hodeida that would address political, humanitarian, security concerns of all concerned parties", said Martin Griffiths in a statement. In a report on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal confirmed that the USA is providing the Saudis with "intelligence to fine-tune their list of airstrike targets" in Hodeida.
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.