As many as 22 million people - three-quarters of Yemen's population - could be at risk of losing access to necessary food and medicines they receive through the port, amid a worsening humanitarian crisis on the verge of starvation that the United Nations has described as the world's most dire.
Previously, worldwide aid agencies voiced alarm over the "looming disaster,"stressing that a battle will jeopardize the delivery of the scarce humanitarian aid desperately needed by the civilian population". 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-backed forces have started an assault on Yemen's main port city of Hudaydah.
The coalition says it would facilitate the flow of goods into Yemen once it seized the port by easing some of its import restrictions. "We thought it could not get any worse, but unfortunately we were wrong".
Saudi Arabia and the UAE say they have plans in place to prevent the battle from causing a humanitarian disaster.
The coalition's initial assault on Hodeidah, which the United Nations has warned could end up killing 250,000 civilians and exacerbate the already awful humanitarian condition, included several airstrikes and also led to the capture of 140 Houthi fighters, UPI reported.
Yemen's exiled government "has exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the Houthi militia from the port of Hudaida", it said in a statement.
A view of the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, May 10, 2017.
The United Arab Emirates confirmed of its four soldiers had been killed and 22 Houthi rebels reportedly also died.
The Arab coalition also struck the main road linking Hodeidah to the capital Sanaa to block reinforcements, residents and anti-Houthi Yemeni military officials said.
He added that Saudi-led helicopters rushed to save the forces aboard the vessel, which is now burning near Yemen's coastline.
Nine pro-government troops were killed in the same area, the medics said.
The city of Hodeida, home to 600,000 people, was captured by Iran-backed Huthi rebels in 2014 along with the capital Sanaa. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015.
Aid agencies warned that the crucial battle in the three-year-old conflict could push the Arab world's poorest country into further chaos.
"The offensive against Hodeida risks triggering catastrophic consequences for all of Yemen", Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.
The U.N. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Wednesday for all sides in Yemen's war to protect civilians. Saudi-led airstrikes have killed large numbers of civilians and damaged vital infrastructure.
On Wednesday, the Houthis said they targeted a coalition warship off the coast of Hodeida with two missiles, with rebel outlet Al-Masirah claiming a direct hit.
The UAE, a pillar of the anti-Houthi coalition, says retaking Hodeida is necessary to force the rebels to make concessions.
Yemen's United Nations humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande said a "worst case" in an assault on Hodedia would mean 250,000 people "losing everything - even their lives".
A Yemeni anti-Houthi military official said the alliance had brought to bear a 21,000-strong force. The sound of heavy, sustained gunfire clearly could be heard. "This is possibly what we're most concerned about".
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