At least 43 Houthis have been killed in Yemen’s flashpoint city of Hodeidah over the past 24 hours as pro-government forces close in on rebel-held areas in the east of the city.
Medics at a hospital in Hodeidah said on Sunday the Houthi fighters had been killed in overnight ground fighting and air attacks by a Saudi-UAE alliance supporting Yemeni troops.
A source at Hodeidah’s military hospital told the AFP news agency that dozens of wounded rebels were transferred to hospitals in the provinces of Sanaa and Ibb, further inland.
Meanwhile, a source at a hospital in the government-held town of Mocha, about 170km south of Hodeidah city, said that nine Yemeni soldiers had been killed in clashes there.
Hodeidah, a large city on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, is the latest battleground between the Houthis and the Saudi-UAE alliance which has 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 attacks reported in the city, with the AFP reporting at least 400 dead fighters.
The United Nations has put the civilian death toll at 23 and has said that about 445,000 civilians have been internally displaced.
On Saturday, Yemeni forces seized Hodeidah’s main hospital and an industrial complex as they pressed further into the city.
“Today, with God’s help, we’ve been able to take over Thabit Brothers Industrial complex in the east of the city,” said a fighter from the Amalqa (Giants) Brigade, a military unit loyal to the Yemeni government.
“In the next hours, we’ll have control of more areas of the city. Victory is coming.”
Aid agencies have long warned that fighting in Hodeidah risks escalating the 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.
Mariam Aldogani, Save the Children’s field coordinator, spoke of intense air raids in the city.
“In the last 30 minutes there were more than 15 air strikes,” she said.
“This should stop immediately, this is the worst period for Hodeidah governorate, especially Hodeidah City. This is the worst time for Hodeidah children.”
Also on Saturday, Saudi Arabia sought to project the decision to end in-flight refuelling as its own, not Washington’s.
The Pentagon had been providing refuelling capabilities for about 20 percent of the alliance’s flying sorties over Yemen.
Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, said the killing of Jamal Khashoggi had increased pressure on the US to pull its support for the war.
“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has certainly put more of a spotlight on the actions of Saudi Arabia in Yemen,” she told Al Jazeera.
“It is giving some new attention to the humanitarian crisis. But I think the real pressure, is actions like the announcement that the US would no longer be providing in-air refuelling of Saudi bombers, that is an important step.”
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”.
“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 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 attacks 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.