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Hundreds killed in heavy fighting along Yemen's west coast

Pro-government forces, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, are advancing on Hodeida [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 June, 2018

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Heavy fighting between Yemen’s pro-government forces and Houthi rebels has killed more than 600 people in recent days, security officials said on Monday.

More than 600 people have been killed in heavy fighting between Yemen’s pro-government forces and Houthi rebels in recent days, security officials said on Monday, as the UN met to try to avert an attack by the Saudi-led coalition on a key humanitarian port.

Dozens of families have also been forced to leave their homes since government forces, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, have been advancing along the western coast in recent weeks as they battle the Houthis, according to witnesses.

The fighting has escalated as government forces close in on the Red Sea port of Hodeida, a vital lifeline through which most of Yemen's food and medicine enters.

The UN Security Council met behind closed doors on Monday to try to avert an attack by the Saudi-led coalition on the key port , which provides a lifeline for humanitarian aid.

Britain requested the urgent talks after telling aid agencies in the area of the rebel-held port of Hodeida that an attack was imminent by forces of the United Arab Emirates.

The United Nations has warned that up to 250,000 people were at risk if the coalition moves ahead with an all-out offensive to take the port, which is a major entry point for commercial supplies and aid. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said there were "intense negotiations" by his UN envoy Martin Griffiths on the fate of the port.

"I hope that there will be a way to avoid the military confrontation in Hodeida," Guterres told reporters.

During the closed session, Griffiths was to brief council members by video-conference from Amman along with UN aid chief Mark Lowcock. 

"We recognize the UAE's security concerns and these need to be addressed," British Ambassador Karen Pierce told reporters ahead of the meeting. "But we are also worried about the humanitarian situation."

The coalition maintains that the Red Sea port is used by Yemen's Huthi rebels to smuggle weapons.

Separately, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged all parties of the conflict to ensure humanitarian access to the Yemeni people. 

The US, he said, is closely following developments in Hodeida and urged Emirati leaders, who control most of the south, to preserve "the free flow of humanitarian aid and life-saving commercial imports."

On Friday, the United Nations warned that a military attack or siege on Hodeida would affect hundreds of thousands of civilians. Some 600,000 people live in and around the city.

Meanwhile, international aid group Doctors Without Borders said the Saudi-led coalition attacked a cholera treatment centre in the northern province of Hajja on Monday.

The group, known by its French acronym MSF, has temporarily frozen its activities in the area, "until we guarantee the safety of our staff and patients," said João Martins, MSF's head of mission in Yemen tweeted.

Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war pitting the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis since March 2015. The coalition aims to restore the government of self-exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

But the three-year stalemated war has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 3 million. It has damaged Yemen's infrastructure, crippled its health system and pushed the Arab world's poorest country to the brink of famine.

The UN considers Yemen to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22.2 million people in need of assistance. Malnutrition, cholera and other diseases have killed or sickened thousands of civilians over the years.

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