Yemen war: Government troops 'capture Hudaydah airport'

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Saudi-led forces fought to retake the worldwide airport of Yemen's rebel-held port city of Hodeida, Yemeni officials and witnesses said on Saturday, as their Shiite Houthi rebel rivals denied the coalition had seized the facility that is the starving nation's main gateway for food shipments.

Victory for the Saudi-led alliance in their first attempt to capture a strategic part of a well-defended city could put the Houthis in their weakest position in the three-year conflict, since Hodeidah is the group's sole Red Sea port.

He did not speak to reporters upon arriving at Sanaa worldwide airport.

Meanwhile, Yemeni officials said dozens of pro-government fighters have been killed mainly from land mines and roadside bombs disguised as rocks and sometimes sacks of wheat.

Officials with Yemen's exiled government said engineers worked to clear mines from areas around Hodeida International Airport, according to The Associated Press.

Griffiths was in Amman following an intense round of shuttle diplomacy this week with Yemen's Huthi rebels, who control the port, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, whose forces are backing the Hodeida offensive.

The United Nations says hundreds of people have fled Hodeida since Wednesday, when a Saudi-led coalition began an assault to take over the vital Red Sea port town, through which most of the country's food comes.

In a statement Saturday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said "we stand with our United Nations partners to call on all parties to the conflict to protect the port, and allow its uninterrupted functioning".

In addition to being one of Yemen's most densely populated areas, with an estimated population of 600,000, Hudaydah is the single most important point of entry in Yemen for the food and basic supplies needed to prevent a starvation.

"The U.N. envoy has accomplished nothing so far".

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Riyadh and Abu Dhabi say the Houthis are a proxy force for Iran, their regional arch-rival. "He provides a cover for the continued aggression", Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam said on Houthi-run media ahead of Griffith's visit.

"The people of Hodeida urgently want to be liberated".

The UN has warned that in a worst-case scenario, the battle could cost up to 250,000 lives and cut off aid supplies to millions of people.

President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the worldwide nuclear deal and his embrace of nuclear state North Korea has dealt a blow to Tehran and put it under pressure to entrench its interests in Arab countries.

The coalition has superior weaponry, including fighter planes. The Houthis, resilient and highly experienced in mountain warfare, have advanced on sandal-shod feet and by pickup truck in battles across Yemen.

Britain, France and the United States back the coalition and provide it with various kinds of aid.

Military and medical sources told Efe news that more than 300 personnel belonging to both the Houthis and Yemeni forces were killed in the last two days of the offensive, while more than 550 were injured.

The coalition air campaign and Houthi bombardment have left more than 10,000 people dead and 2 million displaced, and devastated the country's already fragile infrastructure, including the health sector, which has helped spawn a cholera epidemic.

"UAE and coalition operation to retake Hodeida will also improve the flow of humanitarian assistance to areas controlled by Houthi rebels and areas controlled by the legitimate government of Yemen", he said. The Saudi-led alliance intervened in 2015 to thwart what many countries in the Middle East see as efforts by their archfoe, Iran, to dominate the region.

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