The U.N. Security Council is set to hold an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss the situation in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is conducting an offensive to push Houthi rebels out of the key port of Hodeida.
The fighting around Hodeida resumed Thursday morning and witnesses described heavy fighting on the city's south side.
Britain called the meeting after one of its diplomats, Martin Griffiths, who is the U.N. special envoy to Yemen, urged all sides to “exercise restraint and engage with political efforts to spare Hodeida a military confrontation.”
Coalition airstrikes in Hodeida began early Wednesday after what the United Arab Emirates said was the expiration of a deadline for the rebels to surrender the port.
The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels control Hodeida, the Yemeni capital of Sanaa and most of the more heavily populated areas of the country. The coalition said the rebels have used Hodeida to take deliveries of missiles that the Houthis have fired into Saudi Arabia, which Iran and the Houthis deny.
Hodeida is critical to the humanitarian effort in Yemen, where the United Nations says 22 million people are in need of aid. About 70 percent of all humanitarian aid to Yemen arrives there. Despite the fighting, the U.N. says its teams and partner organizations are continuing their work.
Late Wednesday, the coalition said it had a multifaceted plan to protect civilians, including establishing routes to get food and medical supplies from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to Hodeida.
The coalition said that for the sake of civilians it has no interest in fighting a street-by-street war in Hodeida. But it said it wants to take back the sea and airport and keep the road to Sana’a open.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was in contact with the coalition about the need to ensure its military operations respect international law, including those regarding protecting civilians.
“The Coalition have assured us that they are incorporating humanitarian concerns into their operational plans,” Johnson said. “It is vital to maintain the flow of food, fuel and medical supplies into Yemen. For their part the Houthis must not compromise port facilities or hinder the humanitarian response.”
Yemen is one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with the country on the brink of famine. Fresh water, fuel and medicine are in severe short supply. A cholera epidemic has compounded the misery.
The Houthis took over the capital nearly four years ago, sending the Western-supported government of Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi fleeing into exile to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi airstrikes against the rebels began the following year and have obliterated entire neighborhoods, including hospitals. More than 10,000 people have been killed.
VOA's Chris Hannas contributed to this report.