Group urges UN to warn parties in Yemen war over aid access

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Saudi-led forces fought to retake the global airport of Yemen's rebel-held port city of Hodeida, Yemeni officials and witnesses said on Saturday, as their Shiite Houthi rebel rivals denied the coalition had seized the facility that is the starving nation's main gateway for food shipments.

In a press statement on Thursday after an emergency closed-door meeting, the U.N. Security Council again called for Hodeida and the port of Saleef to be kept open and reiterated support for a political solution to the three-year conflict.

Yemeni commanders say pro-government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition have reached a town at the entrance of the port city of Hodeida and are just "meters" from the global airport.

SABA reported late Wednesday the forces captured the town of Nakhilia in the district of ad-Durayhimi about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) south of Hodeida International Airport.

The UN estimates some 600,000 people live in and around the city.

More than 22 million people in Yemen are in need of aid, including 8.4 million who are at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations, which considers Yemen to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The United States rejected a request from the Emirati government this week to provide intelligence, reconnaissance aircraft and Navy minesweepers because of growing congressional opposition to the offensive, an Emirati official said Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Houthis have reportedly sent forces to Hodeidah from across Yemen to reinforce their lines.

Britain's United Nations ambassador Karen Pierce, who called the meeting, told reporters before it started that United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths has been trying to negotiate the withdrawal of the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, who control Hodeida.

"The offensive against Hodeida risks triggering catastrophic consequences for all of Yemen", Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday ahead of the Security Council meeting later in the day.

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"The Houthis have gathered a large number of their fighters in the city and on the outskirts", Bassim al-Jenani, a freelance Yemeni journalist, told Middle East Eye.

On Thursday, authorities at Hodeida port said the Red Sea lifeline remained open to shipping.

"Nearly 95 percent of the causalities are because of land mines and roadside bombs", the medical official said.

The council did not call on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, whose troops are backing Yemeni forces, to refrain from attacking Hodeida.

The UN official further called on Yemen's warring camps "to meet their obligations to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and... respect global humanitarian law". Since then, the United Nations estimates more than 10,000 people have been killed, mostly due to airstrikes. "The global community must pressure the Houthis to evacuate Hodeida and leave the port intact".

Saudi Arabia with other Arab countries intervened militarily and began pounding the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa in March 2015 in response to an official public request from Hadi to protect Yemen and roll back Iran's influence.

The Air Defense Forces of the Coalition detected the launching of a ballistic missile at 15:09 hours Thursday by Houthi militias from Saada city in Yemen towards Saudi territories. The operation aims to take the port city from the Iranian-backed Houthis.

Writing in Britain's Telegraph newspaper, Dr Gargash said the increased rebel use of "sophisticated Iranian missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent months" had made it "abundantly clear that the UN's Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen has failed to staunch the flow of arms and material to Iran's proxy forces in Yemen".

An administration official acknowledged that the coalition would like the get more involved militarily in the battle to free the port, but so far that has not happened.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is warning "more and more fighters" are in the Yemeni port city of Hodeida amid a Saudi-led campaign to capture it.