The Latest: WFP urges aid access to Yemen in fight for port

June 16, 2018 - 8:43 am

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — The Latest on the battle for Hodeida in Yemen (all times local):

3:40 p.m.

The U.N. World Food Program is urging warring parties in Yemen to maintain a free food flow through the port of Hodeida, amid efforts by the Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government to retake the strategic port from the Shiite Houthi rebels.

Stephen Anderson of WFP told The Associated Press Saturday that the UN agency is appealing "to maintain the free flow of food and fuel and both commercial and humanitarian for the people who need it most."

"This is a strong appeal to the entire world," he says.

Anderson says a blockade of Hodeida port could have "major impact" on civilians in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government began its assault Wednesday on Hodeida, the main entry point for food into a country already on the brink of famine.

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1:10 p.m.

Yemeni officials and witnesses say forces from the United Arab Emirates-backed Amaleqa brigades, backed by air cover from the Saudi-led coalition, are heading to the eastern part of Hodeida province in an effort to cut off the main road that links it with the capital, Sanaa.

The officials say Saturday that if government forces capture the Kilo 16 Road they will trap the Houthi rebels in Hodeida and the western coast from receiving supplies from Sanaa. The rebels are expected to then have no choice but head to the northern province of Hajjah. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Saudi-led forces heading an assault on the key port city of Hodeida seized control of its international airport Saturday, officials loyal to Yemen's exiled government said, as fierce fighting continues for the starving nation's main gateway for food shipments.

Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa.

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9:45 a.m.

Yemeni rights advocates and relief workers say areas adjacent to the airport in Hodeida are under siege and thousands of people are unable to leave as roads are shut down amid intense fighting.

The United Nations says hundreds of people have fled Hodeida since Wednesday, when a Saudi-led coalition began an assault to take over the vital Red Sea port town, through which most of the country's food comes.

Saber Wasel, a relief worker in Hodeida, told The Associated Press early Saturday: "Families are trapped inside and there is difficulty leaving as they are coming under airstrikes and bombardment by both parties of the war." He said that at least 70 families tried to leave the area of al-Mandhar at night.

Eshraq al-Maqtari, a member of the National Council of Human Rights, said on her Twitter account that the entire population of Mandhar, around 3,000 people, are besieged.

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8:45 a.m.

Yemeni official say Saudi-led forces have seized the airport in Yemen's rebel-held port city of Hodeida.

The military loyal to Yemen's exiled government issued a statement Saturday morning saying that engineers now were trying to remove mines left by the Shiite rebels known as Houthis.

The Houthis did not immediately acknowledge losing the airport.

Hodeida International Airport is on the south side of the city home to some 600,000. So far, fighting has yet to enter Hodeida's downtown or its crucial port.

The Saudi-led coalition began its assault Wednesday on Hodeida, the main entry for food into a country already on the brink of famine.

International aid groups and the United Nations have warned the fighting could affect food imports.

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