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As fighting nears city of Hodeida, aid groups plead for Yemeni civilians

Abduljabbar Zeyad, Reuters | A tug damaged by an air strike on the maintenance hub at the Hodeida port in May 2018.

International aid groups on Wednesday appealed for safe passage for civilians in Yemen, as government forces and Iran-backed rebels battle for one of the country's most densely populated cities.

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Humanitarian workers called for the urgent protection of residents in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, as clashes approach civilian hospitals.

Save the Children reported one of its facilities had been hit, warning that warring parties were "now waging a battle within the city area", which is home to around 600,000 people.

"The lives of hundreds of thousands of people, roughly half of them children, are in danger," said Save the Children, adding that there were temporary roadblocks preventing residents from leaving or entering Hodeida.

One of the biggest hospitals in Hodeida, Al-Thawra, is now only "metres away from an active frontline", said International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Mirella Hodeib, speaking from the Yemeni capital.

Juliette Touma, spokeswoman for the UN children's fund (UNICEF), said: "We're talking about dying children who are currently at the hospital.

"What we are fearful about is that the escalation of violence is highly likely to jeopardise humanitarian efforts that are life saving," she told AFP.

"We need to be able to continue to deliver humanitarian assistance, because if we are not, the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen is likely to become even worse."

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Wednesday announced it had suspended its work in the Daleh region, east of Hodeida province.

"There have been multiple security incidents directly targeting patients, staff and MSF-supported medical facilities in the area. We are left with no choice but to close all activities in Daleh governorate," said Ton Berg, the group's head of mission in Yemen.

Save the Children said one of its facilities in Hodeida had been damaged, without identifying the party responsible.

"A Save the Children-supported health facility in the Yemeni port city of Hodeida came under attack this morning, damaging one of the pharmacies that supplies life-saving medicines," the aid group said in a statement.

"Shelling has also hit residential areas."

The most impoverished country in the Arab world, Yemen has been gripped by war since 2015, when a regional military coalition led by Saudi Arabia joined the government's fight against the Huthi rebels.

The pro-government coalition drove the Huthis out of a string of ports they had seized, but the rebels still control the capital Sanaa as well as Hodeida.

The coastal city is home to Yemen's most valuable port, crucial for nearly 80 percent of aid deliveries and food and fuel imports into the war-torn country.

The port has been under blockade by the Saudi-led alliance for a year, a move the coalition says aims to curb the smuggling of weapons from Iran to the Huthis.

Tehran denies it arms the rebels.

Nearly 10,000 Yemenis have been killed since 2015, according to the World Health Organisation, and the country now stands on the brink of famine.

(AFP)

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