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Aid Groups Plead Safe Passage for Yemenis Trapped in Hodeida

Yemeni pro-government forces advance towards the port area from the eastern outskirts of Hodeida, as they continue to battle for the control of the city controlled by Huthi rebels, Nov. 6, 2018.

International aid groups pled Wednesday for the residents of a Yemeni port city trapped between warring government forces and Iranian-backed rebels to be allowed safe passage out of the crossfire.

The non-governmental organization Save the Children said one of its medical clinics had been damaged in the fighting in the densely-populated Red Sea city of Hodeida, home to a population of about 600,000.

One of the city’s biggest hospitals is now “meters away from an active frontline,” according to a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Spokespeople for UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders expressed similar concerns that the fighting had reached too close for comfort to the civilian population, obstructing their humanitarian efforts.

Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, has been wracked by brutal infighting since a Saudi-led coalition joined forces with the government in 2015 against Houthi rebels, an armed theological movement of mostly Shi'ite and some Sunni Muslims. Regime forces have ended Houthi control of a string of coastal towns, but the rebels still hold Hodeida and Sanaa, Yemen’s largest city and capital.

Hodeida, whose port receives the vast majority of the country’s aid deliveries and food and fuel imports, is a critical location in the conflict.

Years of heavy fighting have exacted a heavy toll on the country’s population. The United Nations has said that 14 million Yemenis, half the population, are on the brink of starvation.

UNICEF says 30,000 children die every year from malnutrition, and 400,000 children under age five are currently at risk of the same fate. Malnutrition rates, among the world’s highest before the conflict, have soared higher. The U.N. has called the conflict the worst humanitarian and security crisis in the world.

VOA's Lisa Schlein contributed to this story.