The UN Security Council has called on all sides involved in fighting over the Yemeni city of Hudaida to keep its port open to allow the delivery of aid and other essentials.
Saudi and Emirati forces began an offensive to capture the Houthi held city three days ago, raising fears for its 600,000 strong civilian population and over the safety of its port, which is responsible for 70 percent of imports into Yemen.
During a closed-door meeting, members of the Security Council expressed their “deep concern about the risks to the humanitarian situation”, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who holds the council presidency, said.
The council brushed aside a call by Sweden, a non-permanent member, for a freeze to the military operation to allow time for talks on a rebel withdrawal from the Red Sea port city.
Yemen’s internationally recognised government earlier said negotiations had failed to force the rebels from Hudaida, and a grace period for UN-led peace efforts was over.
Adana Dieng, UN special adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, said the attack on Hudaida could heighten the 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,” Dieng said in a statement.
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 offensive on Hudaida, Yemen’s third largest city, is the biggest battle in the three-year war between the coalition and Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels.
Heavy fighting has left at least 39 people dead as of Thursday, including 30 Hourthi rebels, and nine pro-government troops.
Rebels have instructed civilians to move away from the outskirts of the city and towards the city centre.
Yemeni government officials say they do not plan on striking infrastructure within the city.