Thousands evacuate as battle intensifies near Yemen airport


The United States is providing the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen with logistical support as it wages an offensive to retake Hodeidah but is not involved in combat operations, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

"An action to de-mine access to the port of Hodeidah after the end of military operations is now under study".

"We need some time to make sure there are no gunmen, mines or explosive in the building", the military source said.

Yemeni pro-government forces gather at the south of Hodeida airport, in Yemen's Hodeida province on June 15, 2018.

Yemeni officials say dozens of coalition-backed fighters have been killed mostly by Shiite rebel Houthi land mines and roadside bombs as fighting outside the airport of Hodeida intensifies.

Meanwhile, the US, which has backed the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence, logistical support and aerial refueling of fighter jets, has not publicly opposed the assault but has urged the coalition to ensure that humanitarian aid deliveries to the port continue.

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Arab Coalition forces have seized control of the airport in Yemen's Hodeidah only days after launching the operation to liberate the port city from Iran-backed Houthi insurgents, the media office of the Yemeni military said on Saturday.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the press.

The Houthi-run Al Masirah satellite news channel aired footage it described as being from near Hodeida showing a burned-out truck, corpses of irregular fighters and a damaged Emirati armored vehicle.

Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said the USA has continued to provide aerial refueling for coalition aircraft and intelligence assistance.

However, the United Nations and humanitarian aid agencies remain fearful for the lives of thousands of civilians, with more than 90 per cent of food imported into Yemen overall - and 70 per cent of that food imported through the port of Hodeidah.

The Arab coalition has ignored advice from global aid groups, who say Yemen is already on the brink of famine and any shutdown of Hodeida's port could risk tipping millions of civilians into starvation. Around two-thirds of Yemen's population of 27 million relies on aid, and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.

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Fighting closed off the city's northern exit, blocking a key route east to Sanaa and making it harder to transport goods from Yemen's biggest port to mountainous regions.

Riyadh has accused the Houthis of using the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons, including missiles used to target Saudi cities - accusations denied by the group and Tehran.

Aid agencies and the United Nations evacuated worldwide staff from the city before the offensive began. Some of the wounded able to flee are driving onto Aden, some 315 kilometers (195 miles) away, after being stabilized at a hospital in Mocha on the way, the aid group Doctors Without Borders said.

Ahmed al-Kawkabani, who leads a force known as the Tohama Brigade, tells The Associated Press on Friday that fighting is ongoing at the town of Dawar-al-Hodeida at the outskirts of the city.

On the one hand, "the UAE has carved out a zone in southern Yemen that is both free of Iranian-backed militias and allows the U.S. to go after Al Qaeda and ISIS, and the United States is taking advantage of the UAE's hard work in southern Yemen to conduct more strikes against terrorist groups", Mr Heras told The National.

He did not speak to reporters on his arrival at Sanaa worldwide airport.

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