The Saudi and Emirati-led coalition has conducted air strikes on Yemen‘s Hudaida airport to support forces attempting to seize control from Houthi fighters inside, according to Saudi and Houthi media.
The coalition warplanes carried out five strikes on the port city of Hudaida – a lifeline to millions of Yemenis – on Sunday in a continuation of the biggest battle of the war in three years, the Houthis’ official SABA news agency said.
Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya also reported strikes on the airport.
The coalition launched a major offensive five days ago that could cut off supply lines to the capital Sanaa, which is controlled by the Houthis.
Each side holds various parts of the airport.
The UN envoy for Yemen arrived in Sanaa on Saturday for crisis talks amid growing fears that fighting between the two sides could exacerbate a humanitarian crisis.
Martin Griffiths has not made any statement since his arrival in Yemen.
He is expected to propose to rebel leaders that they halt fighting and cede control of Hudaida’s vital port to a UN-supervised committee.
Griffiths’ arrival came as fighting intensified around Hudaida’s airport amid conflicting claims over its fate.
In a post on Twitter on Saturday, an account associated with the Saudi-aligned Yemeni army said the airport had been “freed from the grip of the Houthi militia” and that de-mining operations were ongoing.
But later on Saturday, Houthi-linked civil aviation authorities denied the rebels had lost control over the airport.
The Houthis’ official news agency SABA quoted Mohammed al-Sharif, deputy head of civil aviation, as saying that images circulated online about the airport were taken in 2016 and that a fence shown as the airport fence was in fact situated on a piece of land belonging to a lawmaker.
The recent escalation in fighting has raised fears the clashes could trigger a famine imperiling millions of lives.
More than 22 million people in Yemen are in need of aid, including 8.4 million who are at risk of starvation, according to the UN, which considers Yemen to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The UN Security Council has expressed its “deep concern” over the fighting and UN officials have warned of a risk of famine.
“The Yemeni port (of Hudaida) is a lifeline for the delivery of aid and the Coalition’s air attacks can kill many more people over time through famine and hunger when damaging such civilian infrastructure,” Adana Dieng, UN special adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, said in a statement.
The war between the Houthi rebels and the backers of Yemen’s government has raged for more than three years. More than 10,000 Yemenis have been killed by the fighting and millions have been displaced.