Yemeni forces, backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have seized control of a hospital in the western city of Hodeidah which was taken over by Houthi fighters earlier this week.
The AFP news agency reported on Saturday that Yemeni soldiers captured the May 22 hospital in the city’s eastern suburbs, which had been turned into a sniper position by Houthi fighters – in violation of international law.
A source in the city told Al Jazeera that Yemeni forces, numbering in the thousands, had also seized the Faculty of Engineering building of Hodeidah University, which sits just 4km from the city’s vital port.
The source said the city’s streets, which would normally be heaving with people and traffic on Saturday, were empty with the sound of shelling a near constant in the background.
Hodeidah, a large city on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, is the latest battleground between the Houthis and a Saudi-UAE military alliance who have been fighting for control over the country for the past three and a half years.
Since November 3, there have been more than 200 air strikes reported in the city, with at least 150 confirmed deaths.
The Houthi-affiliated Al-Masirah news outlet said more than 30 air raids were carried out in the neighbourhood of the hospital on Friday, killing at least two civilians, including a girl, and leaving at least 15 other civilians wounded.
The report could not be independently verified.
Aid agencies have long warned that fighting in Hodeidah risks escalating the war-ravaged country’s dire humanitarian crisis.
More than 70 percent of the country’s food, aid, fuel and commercial goods used to enter into Yemen through the city’s port.
In a statement on Friday, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a charity which operates in several parts of the country, condemned the latest offensive and warned Hodeidah was “at risk of being obliterated”.
Temporary roadblocks had been erected across the city, it said, preventing people from entering or leaving – in effect trapping them in an active conflict zone.
“We warned the international community that an offensive on the city was coming, and it has. We warned that the violence would see another half a million people flee their homes, and it did.
“We are now warning that by allowing this to go on, parties to the conflict and their international backers will be responsible for the death, injury and suffering of millions of people,” the NRC said.
A new round of peace talks to end the war, which has killed more than 56,000 people according to a recent estimate, was scheduled to take place in Sweden in November but had been pushed back to late December.
On October 30, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and James Mattis, the Pentagon chief, had called for a ceasefire within 30 days and demanded that the warring parties meet the UN’s Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in Sweden.
However, on Thursday, the UN said its special envoy would instead convene talks by the end of the year.
Writing in the Washington Post, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee called US’ calls for a ceasefire “nothing but empty talk.”
“Saudi leaders are reckless and have no interest in diplomacy,” he said.
“The United States has the clout to bring an end to the conflict – but it has decided to protect a corrupt ally.
“Trump and his administration clearly prefer to continue this devastating war because of the economic returns it produces – they drool over those arms sales profits,” al-Houthi added.
The conflict in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, began when the Yemeni government slashed fuel subsidies in the summer of 2014, prompting angry protests and forcing thousands onto the capital’s streets.
The Houthis exploited the unrest and marched south from their stronghold of Saada province to Sanaa, and toppled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi‘s government.
Concerned by the rise of Houthis, a US-backed Saudi-UAE military coalition intervened in 2015 with a massive air campaign aimed at reinstalling Hadi’s government.
Since then, data collected by Al Jazeera and the Yemen Data Project has found that more than 18,000 air raids have been carried out in Yemen, with almost one-third of all bombing missions striking non-military sites.
Weddings, funerals, schools and hospitals, as well as water and electricity plants, have been targeted, killing and wounding thousands.