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A Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government has begun an assault on Yemen's port city of Hodeidah, a crucial battle in the three-year conflict that aid agencies warned could push the Arab world's poorest country into further chaos.

According to Dubai-based Al Arabiya, Yemeni troops have gained control of the city's southern district of Nekheila.

In a statement responding to the potentially catastrophic attack on Hodeidah, Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, took aim at both the USA and the United Kingdom for providing crucial political and military support for the Saudi-led assault, arguing that such complicity reveals "the true face of their foreign policy".

The United Nations says 8.4 million Yemenis are on the verge of starvation, and for most the port is the only route for food supplies.

"These efforts included the recent contribution of $1.5 billion to United Nations relief efforts in Yemen, the largest in United Nations history, as well as initiatives to enhance the capacity of ports throughout Yemen, including facilitating the entry of cranes into Hodeidah". They spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorised to brief journalists.

"We have had more than 30 airstrikes within 30 minutes this morning around the city".

"Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes", said Jolien Veldwijk, the acting country director of the aid group CARE International, which works in Hodeida.

"Under global humanitarian law, parties to the conflict have to do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they need to survive", Lise Grande, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, told Reuters by email. The Saudi-led coalition has been criticized for its airstrikes killing civilians.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had said that U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths was in "intense negotiations" in an attempt to avoid a military confrontation.

He called on all parties to engage with United Nations efforts "to spare Hodeida any military confrontation" and "give peace a chance". They say they will try to keep the port running and can ease the crisis by lifting importrestrictions if they seize it. Port workers told Reuters five ships were docked at Hodeida port unloading goods, but no new entry permits would be issued on Wednesday. Effort to kill Trump tariffs blocked Trump stokes confusion with pledge to halt Korean war games Five takeaways from Trump's summit with Kim Jong Un MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoWith caveats, Republicans praise Trump's summit with Kim Jong Un Pavlich: Pompeo: The man for the job on North Korea Five takeaways from Trump's summit with Kim Jong Un MORE on the eve of the offensive expressing "grave alarm".

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"The Kingdom has been and will continue to be at the forefront of humanitarian efforts to support the brotherly people of Yemen".

The United States, Britain and France all sell billions of dollars of weapons a year to the Arab countries.

"The liberation of Hudaydah port is a turning point in our struggle to recapture Yemen from the militias that hijacked it to serve foreign agendas", the exiled government said in a separate statement carried by state-run Yemeni media.

The alliance intervened in Yemen to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was driven from the capital Sanaa and into exile in 2014.

Local military sources said hundreds of Yemeni fighters as well as tanks and military supplies from the UAE arrived on Monday to reinforce troops, including Emiratis and Sudanese, in al-Durayhmi, a rural area 10 km (6.21 miles) south of Hodeidah.

Emirati-led troops have advanced along the southwestern coast to the outskirts of Hodeidah under a coalition strategy to box in the Houthis in the capital Sanaa and choke off their supply lines to force them to the negotiating table.

Bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador, wrote that Houthi rebels have attacked commercial and military ships, including those belonging to the U.S. He added that the "liberation of Hodaidah" is critical because of the threat Iran-backed Houthis pose to the security of the Red Sea.

The Saudi-led coalition did not immediately acknowledge the incident.

The Arab states hope for a swift victory that would force the Iran-aligned Houthis to negotiate.