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The Biggest Assault of the Yemen War Just Put Millions at Risk of Famine

Humanitarian agencies and international organisations have been warning for weeks about an imminent attack on the Red City port of Hodeidah in Yemen.

On Wednesday, that attack finally happened — and it’s the biggest assault of the more than three-year war that has devastated the country. 

An estimated 300,000 children are stuck in the city and are at risk of being killed or maimed by the fighting, warned Save the Children on Wednesday. 

Take action: Children Are Starving and They Need Your Help

“Families and children could be caught in the crossfire, unable to leave but in grave danger from bombs and bullets if they stay, trapped beyond the reach of humanitarian aid or medical care,” said Tamer Kirolos, Yemen country director for Save the Children. 

“The battle for Hodeidah will almost certainly result in a huge loss of civilian life and damage to vital infrastructure,” Kirolos added. “We feel despair for the children of Hodeidah who didn’t ask for this war.” 

Many aid agencies — along with civilians — have already had to flee the city because of the ferocity of the attack by the Saudi-led coalition.

Read more: The Destruction of This One Port Could Cause Devastation for Yemen's Already Starving People

CARE International, one of the few that have remained, reported 30 air strikes hitting city in just 30 minutes. 

“Some civilians are entrapped, others forced from their homes,” said CARE’s acting country director, Jolien Veldwijk. “We thought it could not get any worse, but unfortunately we were wrong.” 

Save the Children also warned at the end of last month that, if the port was attacked, it could cause the displacement of an additional 340,000 people — on top of the 3 million Yemenis already displaced by the conflict. 

Wednesday’s assault reportedly saw warplanes and warships support ground operations by foreign troops and troops loyal to the Yemeni government-in-exile, according to Reuters. The attack, named operation “Golden Victory,” intends to force out the Iran-backed Houthi rebels that currently control Hodeidah. 

Read more: Yemen's Cholera Outbreak Hits 1 Million Cases

The battle is the first time that Arab states have tried to capture a heavily defended major city since joining the conflict three years ago, Reuters added

But aid agencies are warning about an effect of the battle that could potentially be even more devastating for Yemenis than the direct fighting — the closure of the port city. 

In Yemen, up to 80% of imports of food, medicines, and aid shipments go through the port, and the United Nations has already warned that any attempt to seize the port would threaten the flow of aid that so many people rely on to survive. 

Already, Yemen is home to the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis. Some 8.4 million Yemenis are living on the brink of famine. More than 22.2 million people — in a country with a population of 27.5 million — are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, according to the UN. 

Read more: 18 Million Yemenis Could Face Starvation by the End of the Year, UN Says

“This attack risks more people dying, but it also risks cutting the lifeline of millions of Yemenis,” Veldwijk, of CARE International, continued. “Food imports already reached the lowest levels since the conflict started and the price of basic commodities has risen by a third.” 

“The attack on Hodeidah as the main port of entry for aid in Yemen will multiply horror and death in Yemen,” she added. “We urge all parties to refrain from any further military activists in and around Hodeidah city and the port.

“People are already exhausted, starving, and have no means to cope with any further escalation of war."

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Meanwhile, Save the Children’s Kirolos said that “despite repeated warnings of the devastating impact this will have, a famine is becoming a real possibility, with hundreds of thousands of lives at risk.” 

Read more: More Than Half the World's Children Face Poverty, Conflict, or Discrimination

Hodeidah was one of the country’s ports that were totally sealed off by the Saudi-led coalition in November 2017, in what the coalition said was an attempt to stop the flow of weapons to the Houthi rebels from Iran — a claim that Iran denied. 

That closure pushed a further 3.2 million people into hunger, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). And the latest attack risks a repeat closure that could push millions into famine and food insecurity. 

The UN has been calling on all parties to the conflict to avert a battle and protect civilian life, with UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, saying the organisation was talking to both sides. 

“We call on them to exercise restraint and engage with political efforts to spare Hodeida a military confrontation,” he reportedly tweeted.

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