UAE military vessel ATTACKED by Yemeni-Houthi rebels in Red Sea

Residents of the city collect water from an Oxfam water tank

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and UAE-backed Yemeni forces launched an assault to retake Hodeidah, a Houthi-held port city through which 70 to 80 percent of commercial and humanitarian supplies enter Yemen.

The coalition also struck the main road linking Hodeidah to the northern capital, Sanaa, to block any reinforcements of the Iran-aligned Houthis, who hold both cities, residents and anti-Houthi Yemeni military officials said. The sound of intense and continuous shots could be heard clearly in the background.

Saudi-owned satellite news channels have announced the start of the Saudi-led coalition's assault on Hodeida.

Yemeni officials say Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have hit most of the Houthi rebel defenses of Hodeida as part of the coalition's assault on the key Red Sea port town.

Yemen's government, which is recognized by the United Nations despite being in exile, said in a statement released Wednesday on the state-run Saba news agency that "the liberation of Hudaydah port constitutes a distinguishing mark in our struggle to retake Yemen from the militias that kidnapped it to execute foreign agendas". Almost 18 months since he last stepped foot in the country, Hadi returned to the southern Yemeni city of Aden to reportedly support his forces against the Houthis.

The coalition has blocked most ports, letting supplies into Hodeida in coordination with the UN The air campaign and fighting have disrupted other supply lines, causing an economic crisis that makes food too expensive for many to afford.

Besides naval and ground assaults, Saudi-led jets launched more than 10 strikes on Hodeidah province, including targets in civilian areas, Saba noted, in a separate report.

The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government began an assault Wednesday morning on Hodeida.

A street vendor sells vegetables in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, June 14, 2018. "In a prolonged worst case, we fear that as many as 250,000 people may lose everything - even their lives".

That kicked off an intense air campaign that the United Nations says is responsible for the majority of the estimated 6,439 civilians killed and the more than 10,000 wounded and that it unleashed a cholera epidemic that has hit an estimated 1 million people.

The biggest battle in a three-year war, which has already created the world's biggest humanitarian crisis, centers on Hodeidah, the main route for food and aid to reach most Yemenis, 8.4 million of whom are on the verge of starvation.

However, coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said they wanted to avoid a street war with the Houthis "for the safety of civilians". The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015.

"It's providing any intel, or anything we can give to show no-fire areas where there are civilians, where there's mosques, hospitals, that sort of thing - (and) aerial refueling, so nobody feels like I've got to drop the bomb and get back now", he said. The Houthis, drawn from a Shi'ite minority that ruled a thousand-year kingdom in Yemen until 1962, say they took power through a popular revolt against corruption and are now defending Yemen from invasion by its neighbours.

The coalition accuses the Houthis of using the port to secure Iranian arms, notably ballistic missiles the militants have increasingly fired into Saudi territory.

Pro-government troops began the assault on Wednesday despite mounting global fears about the humanitarian fallout, pressing toward Hodeida airport south of the city after receiving a "green light" from the coalition. UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths is due to update the Security Council soon on his proposals for a negotiated settlement.

Despite the fighting, the United Nations is still supplying aid. In a report on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal confirmed that the U.S. is providing the Saudis with "intelligence to fine-tune their list of airstrike targets" in Hodeida.

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