Exiled Yemen president goes to UAE as port attack looms

Battle for Yemen's biggest port under way

The Houthis are backed by Iran.

The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government launched a fierce assault Wednesday on the crucial port city of Hodeida, the biggest offensive of the years-long war in the Arab world's poorest nation for the main entry point for food in a country already teetering on the brink of starvation.

The United Arab Emirates, one of the main members of the Western-backed alliance, has set a Tuesday deadline for the Iran-aligned Houthis to withdraw from the port of Hodeidah under U.N. -led negotiations or face an assault.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's civil war, which has displaced 2 million others and helped spawn a cholera epidemic.

"Such hostile acts by the Iran-backed Houthi militias prove the continuing involvement of the Iranian regime in supporting the Houthi militias with qualitative capabilities in a flagrant and explicit violation of the two United Nations resolutions No. 2216 and 2231 with the objective of threatening the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as the regional and global stability".

Yemen's government-controlled SABA news agency said Hadi's trip came after Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited him at his home in Riyadh, where he lives in self-imposed exile.

On Thursday, a senior UAE official said the Trump administration has rejected requests for military assistance in the coalition attack on Hodeida. The Saudi-led coalition has been criticized for its airstrikes killing civilians. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015.

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Although the Trump administration has developed close ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, "many members of Congress and worldwide diplomats blame the two countries for exacerbating what the United Nations says is the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with indiscriminate attacks that have been responsible for thousands of civilian deaths", adds the newspaper.

Aid groups nevertheless warned of disaster.

Meanwhile, diplomats in the region told The New York Times that "only pressure from Washington, which sells tens of millions of dollars of weapons to the United Arab Emirates and to Saudi Arabia every year, could stop the assault". The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet to discuss the offensive. The sound of heavy, sustained gunfire clearly could be heard.

The United Nations and other aid groups had pulled their global staff from Hodeida ahead of the rumored assault. "Some workers have left to their villages for fear of the war", said Mohammed, a Hodeida resident who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals.

Late Wednesday, the Saudi and Emirati governments announced what they called a "multi-faceted plan" to protect civilians in Hodeida, including establishing routes for food, medical supplies and oil shipments from Saudi Arabia's southern city of Jizan and the UAE's capital, Abu Dhabi.

"I am extremely concerned about military escalation in #Hodeida & their humanitarian & political impact", he said in a tweet.

Worldwide aid agencies and the United Nations have warned the assault could shut down the vital aid route for some 70 percent of Yemen's food, as well as the bulk of humanitarian aid and fuel supplies. Military sources said the deaths were caused by mines and snipers.

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