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Hundreds of children at risk in Yemen battle: French charity

© AFP | Air strike in late May damaged the maintenance hub at the Hodeidah port, where Saudi-backed Yemeni forces have now launched a major offensive to take back the city from rebels. The fighting is greatly disrupting desperately needed food aid supplies.

PARIS (AFP) - 

A French food aid group warned Wednesday that the lives of hundreds of children were at stake in Yemen's city of Hodeida after Saudi-backed forces launched a major offensive to recapture the rebel-held port.

Yemeni forces supported by a Saudi-led coalition confirmed Wednesday their operation to reclaim the city from Huthi rebels, despite UN warnings of a "catastrophic" impact.

Hodeida is the main port of entry to Yemen for the food shipments needed to prevent all-out famine after four years of war that have created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"What happens today could really increase the mortality rate, increase the number of children dying, increase issues around water supply, water access and food supply," Jon Cunliffe, Middle East operations director for the Action Contre La Faim (ACF), told AFP in an interview in Paris.

The charity combatting hunger is currently helping feed 760 acutely malnourished children in Hodeida governorate.

"They're going to die unless they get that food," Cunliffe stressed.

Hodeida is one of the regions worst affected by the war between Iran-backed insurgents and a coalition of Sunni Arab states led by Riyadh.

ACF, helping to supply food to nearly 4,000 malnourished children in the region and also providing medical care to thousands, said the offensive launched Wednesday risked further driving up food prices, which had soared in the past week.

"The fear is that if Hodeida is completely taken or cut off from the rest of the country... there will be a run on supplies," Cunliffe said.

ACF, which withdrew its international staff from the city on Monday, was "very concerned" for the welfare of 150 remaining local staff, he added.

ACF and a dozen other NGOs on Wednesday called on France, a major supplier of arms to Saudi Arabia, to "not continue supporting a party to the conflict that attacks Hodeida".

They also urged French President Emmanuel Macron to abandon his plans for a humanitarian conference on Yemen on June 27 in Paris, which is being organised in conjunction with Saudi Arabia, saying it would be "unthinkable" in the event of an offensive in Hodeida.

The French foreign ministry on Wednesday said that the conference would go ahead.

© 2018 AFP