ADEN (Dispatches) – A Saudi-led coalition geared up on Tuesday for an assault on Yemen’s main port, preparing to launch by far the biggest battle of a three-year-old war between an alliance of Arab states and the Houthi movement that controls Yemen’s capital.
The United Arab Emirates, one of the main members of the Western-backed alliance, has set the deadline for the Houthi fighters to withdraw from the port of Hudaydah under UN-led negotiations or face an assault.
It would be the first time since they joined the war on behalf of Yemen’s exiled government that the foreign armies have attempted to capture the city.
Hudaydah, Yemen’s biggest port and the only port controlled by the Houthis, serves as the lifeline for the majority of Yemen’s population, which lives in Houthi-ruled territory.
The United States is standing idly by in the face of an imminent military offensive by its ally on the Yemeni port city, which the UN and aid groups have warned could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe there.
In the past few days, forces loyal to Yemen’s ex-president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, have closed in on Hudaydah, reportedly seizing a number of nearby areas. The UAE, which is a party to the Saudi-led coalition, is playing a key role in the offensive.
The United Nations said it was engaged in "intense” shuttle diplomacy between the Houthis and coalition leaders Saudi Arabia and the UAE to avert the attack.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says it has "temporarily frozen” its humanitarian activities in northwestern Yemen after an airstrike carried out by warplanes of a Saudi-led military coalition hit a cholera treatment center run by the international medical charity.
"This morning's attack on an MSF cholera treatment center by the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition shows complete disrespect for medical facilities and patients,” said Joao Martins, MSF’s head of mission in Yemen, in a statement.
His comments came hours after Saudi-led fighter jets struck a newly-built clinic of MSF in the Abs district in the northwestern province of Hajjah. Martins said that the center had been empty at the time of the airstrike, hence, left no casualties.
He added that the facility's roof clearly identified it as a medical center and that its coordinates had been previously given to the so-called Saudi-led coalition.
"MSF has temporarily frozen its activities in Abs until the safety of its staff and patients is guaranteed,” Martins further said.
Since July 2015, the international charity group has been supporting the Abs hospital, which according to the MSF, is just one kilometer away from the cholera treatment center targeted on Monday.
Saudi Arabia and its allies launched the war on Yemen in March 2015 to install a former regime that had been loyal to Riyadh.
The Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights announced in a statement on March 25 that the Saudi-led war had left 600,000 civilians dead and injured until then.
The war and an accompanying blockade have caused famine across Yemen. The United Nations says a record 22.2 million people are in need of food aid, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger.
The Saudi aggression has also taken a heavy toll on the country's facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools, and factories.
Since 2016, the impoverished nation has also been grappling with a deadly cholera outbreak, which has already killed thousands of people.
Several Western countries, the US and the UK in particular, are accused of being complicit in the aggression as they supply the Riyadh regime with advanced weapons and military equipment as well as logistical and intelligence assistance.
A Yemeni soldier, loyal to ex-president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, fires a machine gun near the city of Hajjah, Hudaydah Province, June 7, 2018.