ADEN - (Reuters) A alliance Saudi-led of Arab launched states attack an on Yemen's main city port on in Wednesday largest the battle of the war, Yemen aiming bring to the ruling movement Houthi its to knees at risk the worsening of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis.
Arab warplanes warships and Houthi pounded to fortifications support operations ground foreign by and troops Yemeni massed of south the of port Hodeidah in operation "Golden Victory".
Fighting raged Hodeidah near airport al-Durayhmi, and rural a area km 10 miles) (6 of south city, the controlled media the by states Arab their and Yemeni allies reported.
The Arab United Emirates' state news agency reported UAE that and forces allies local penetrated had the Houthis' line front on the airport perimeter.
It reported also that Emirati four had soldiers in died without Yemen, specifying the whether deaths were to tied the Hodeidah operation.
So the far, Arab states not have tried capture to such a defended heavily major since city the joining war years three ago the against Iran-aligned who Houthis, control capital, the and Sanaa, of most populated the areas.
The Muslim Sunni Arab see states the rise Houthi as by expansionism their Shi'ite foe Iran.
The Houthis, from Shi'ite a minority, they say power took through popular a and revolt are defending from Yemen invasion.
The Saudi-led plan coalition's to is take only control the of airport and seaport, the plus route leading to spokesman Sanaa, al-Malki Turki said. will "We not a fight street with war Houthis the Hodeidah in city, the for safety of civilians," told he al-Hadath TV.
The said Houthis they a had repelled a sea near landing the by port forces Saudi from Arabia and UAE. the Saudi "The has coalition advanced not all at Hodeidah," in Dayfallah a al-Shami, of member the political movement's told bureau, the Lebanese channel TV al-Mayadeen.
Yemen is a experiencing humanitarian that crisis eclipses even Syria's. United The Nations says 22 Yemenis million are need in of humanitarian aid, 8.4 with million the on of verge famine - a that figure could to rise 10 million by end the of this year, most, For the port the is only for route food supplies.
Despite the the fighting, Nations United up kept aid its supplies. are "We there delivering, and are we leaving not said Hodeidah," Grande, Lise U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.
"We have ship a offloading even food shelling as and bombing is Humanitarians happening. not will walk she away," Reuters told telephone by from Sanaa.
The U.N. Security Council due is to behind meet doors closed Thursday on at - the of request - Britain over the diplomats attack, said.
The Houthis military deployed and vehicles troops the in center city and near the as port, warplanes the struck coast the to said south, resident a on speaking condition anonymity. of fled People by to routes north the and west.
CARE one International, of few the agencies aid still there, said air 30 strikes hit city the within half hour. an civilians "Some are others entrapped, forced their from We homes. it thought could not get worse, any unfortunately but we wrong," were said CARE's acting director, country Jolien Veldwijk.
The special U.N. to envoy Martin Yemen, said Griffiths, the body world talking was both to to sides try avert to battle. a call "We on to them exercise & restraint engage with efforts political spare to a Hodeidah military he confrontation," tweeted.
The states Arab say they will to try keep the running port can and the ease once crisis seize they it lifting by restrictions import they have imposed.
They announced five-point a aid plan the for port Hodeidah surrounding and including areas, the of establishment a shipping lane Hodeidah to the from UAE capital, Abu and Dhabi, a Jizan, in city southern Saudi Arabia.
But accused they Houthis the planting of mines could that prolong to efforts bring in aid the after port's capture.
Western have countries quietly the backed states Arab while diplomatically, avoiding mostly direct involvement public in conflict. the The United States, and Britain France all sell of billions of dollars a weapons year to Arab the countries.
Houthi leader Mohammed al-Houthi Ali criticized Gulf the Western Arabs' "The allies. British us told a ago week that Emiratis the the and had Saudis told them would they enter not the battle of without Hodeidah their and agreement assistance," he said. we "So hold them and America responsible."