United Nations warns of Yemen port 'disaster'

UN chief: Destroying Yemen's Hodeida port would be 'catastrophic'

Pro-government troops reached residential neighbourhoods in Hodeida Sunday, triggering fears for civilians who could be trapped in the city.

Medics in hospitals across the city reported 110 rebels and 32 loyalist fighters killed overnight.

But a spokesman for the Huthis on Tuesday said the rebels were ready for "war in the streets" of rebel-held Hodeida.

The Hodeidah offensive has sparked worldwide outcry unprecedented in almost four years of conflict between Houthis, who are linked to Iran, and the Saudi-backed government.

USA secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Sunday urged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a major ally of Washington, to engage in peace talks.

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt met Saudi King Salman in Riyadh on Monday to discuss cease-fire in Yemen, according to Saudi-run Al Arabiya television.

Both the United States and Britain are major suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia.

RIYADH- British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt on Tuesday said prospects for talks to end Yemen's almost four-year-old war were "more real" after Saudi Arabia confirmed its willingness to evacuate 50 wounded Houthi fighters to Oman for medical treatment.

'The human cost of war in Yemen is incalculable, ' Hunt said ahead of his trip.

The truce followed advances by the coalition in their latest attempt to retake the city from the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, with its forces now 5 kilometers (3 miles) short of the port, Yemen's traditional lifeline.

Air strikes against the Iran-aligned Houthis' fortifications were halted for more than 12 hours on Monday and street battles, which had been raging for a week on the outskirts of the Red Sea city, trapping civilians and endangering hospitals, died down, residents said.

Two Saudi-led air strikes hit the main entrance to the rebel-held port of Hodeida but the docks were still operating normally on Tuesday, the port's deputy director told AFP.

The rebels have begun to evacuate their wounded to Sanaa, the capital, which the Huthis seized during a 2014 takeover that included a string of ports on Yemen's coastline.

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the Yemeni government's fight against the Iran-backed Houthis in 2015, triggering what the United Nations now calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Almost 600 people have been killed since clashes erupted on November 1 in Hodeida, one of Yemen's most densely populated cities.

The coalition has come under intense worldwide pressure to end the conflict, particularly following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an ardent critic of Prince Mohammed, in his country's consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

Khashoggi, journalist and columnist for The Washington Post, was killed after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2.

The appeal came as Western powers stepped up pressure on the Saudi-led coalition to agree to talks with the Iran-backed Huthi rebels on ending the war.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis announced last Friday that Washington would support the Saudi decision to use the Saudi-led coalition's own capabilities to conduct inflight refueling missions in Yemen, indicating that the U.S. side would stop refueling the coalition aircraft.

Critics of the Saudi campaign have always been questioning USA involvement in the war, in which more than 10,000 people have been killed, over 2 million displaced and has spread starvation in Yemen since it began in 2015. But rights groups believe the toll may be five times as high.

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