The Port of Hodeida in Yemen

THE Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s exiled government began the assault on the Red Sea port city on Wednesday.

Prince Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, said on Wednesday the ‘liberation’ of Hodeidah is ‘critical’.

Hodeida is the main entry for food into a country already on the brink of famine.

The assault aims to drive out Iranian-aligned Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies, who have held Hodeida since 2015, and a victory could be a major shift in a war that has been at a stalemate.

But it could bring the first major street-to-street fighting for the coalition, a potentially dragged out battle which would be deadly for combatants and civilians alike.

The fear is that a protracted fight could force a shutdown of Hodeida’s port at a time when a halt in aid risks tipping millions into starvation.

Some 70 percent of Yemen’s food enters the country via the port, as well as the bulk of humanitarian aid and fuel supplies.

Around two-thirds of the country’s population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are even worse off, at risk of starving already. (AP)

p: wjg