Hodeida is vital Red Sea port city which has come under intense fighting in the Yemeni conflict.
Hodeida is vital Red Sea port city which has come under intense fighting in the Yemeni conflict.

City that holds the fate of millions

As bullets, shrapnel and bodies are strewn across the streets of Hodeida - a vital Arab port city in the impoverished, war-torn Yemen - more than 14 million pairs of eyes are firmly fixed on what happens next.

It could decide whether they live or die as the country sits of the brink of a famine.

That's because just under half of the Arab nation's emaciated population desperately need food, medicine and supplies and more than 75 per cent of it is fed into Yemen through the crucial Red Sea port.

But the fighting in Hodeida - home to more than 2.5 million people - is far from over.

In fact, despite calls from the US two weeks ago to end the chaos engulfing the dirt poor country, the fighting has just intensified dramatically.

The Sunni Muslim Saudis are refusing to let the predominantly Shia Houthis retain control of the city because they are accusing Iran of smuggling in arms to support the Houthis through the port.

Today, medics have confirmed that least 150 people have been killed in 24 hours of clashes as Yemen's government forces, backed by Saudi Arabia, use any means necessary to oust Iran-backed Houthi rebels who have held the city since 2014.

In all, nearly 600 people have been killed since clashes erupted in the city on November 1, ending a short-lived suspension in a pro-government offensive to take the city that began in June.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of a possible "catastrophic situation" if the port is destroyed.

"The fighting must stop, a political debate must begin and we must prepare a massive humanitarian response to avoid the worst next year," he said.

TERRIFYING HOSPITAL ATTACK

Amnesty International has now called on the Australian Government to suspend all military exports to Saudi Arabia after Hodeida's only functioning hospital containing dozens of children was struck on Sunday.

It is feared that 59 children inside the hospital, 25 of them in intensive care, face an "imminent risk of death", according to UNICEF.

Hundreds of patients and staff dodged a hail of shrapnel which "sounded like rain" as they fled in panic from the vital Al-Thawra Hospital, a medical worker told the human rights organisation.

"I saw a patient carrying another patient. It looked like a mother and daughter. The mother was skin and bones, she was malnourished, a typical Yemeni mother … Nonetheless, she was managing to carry her 15 or 16-year-old daughter in her arms," he said.

"Her daughter was crying. I knew she had either just had surgery or had been in preparation for surgery because she was in a blue surgical robe. There are no words to describe how I felt at this moment.

"I also saw a man walking as fast as he could while carrying a bag of his own urine. He was still attached to a urinary catheter while making his escape. This scene will stay with me for the rest of my life. There were many children too. Some parents were carrying their children. I saw 10 or 12 children among everyone else trying to flee."

The World Health Organisation said the hospital "used to serve about 1500 people per day (but) is now almost inaccessible as the ground fighting is raging".

As the terrifying conflict intensifies, it's still unclear who is winning.

 

In a statement sent via the Telegram messaging app, the Houthis said they had "lured" loyalists up the western coastline of Hodeida, where the rebels then launched an attack on the troops.

However, government forces, led on the ground by Saudi-backed troops, have finally made their way into the city after 11 days of clashes, reaching residential neighbourhoods in the east on Sunday.

This has sparked fears of street fighting further endangering civilians trapped in the city.

BELATED GLOBAL BACKLASH

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the Yemeni Government's fight against the Houthis in 2015, triggering what the UN now calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

But only now, after four years of conflict, has the offensive sparked an international outcry.

Britain, the United States and France have all called for an end to hostilities. All three countries are major suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a major ally of Washington, to engage in peace talks.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt met with Saudi King Salman and Prince Mohammed on Monday during a visit to the kingdom to press the leaders to support UN efforts to end the conflict.

Mr Hunt also flew to the United Arab Emirates, a key pillar of the Saudi-led coalition, to meet Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

In France, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was time "the international community said enough is enough".

"There will be no victor in this war," he told France 2 TV.

Amnesty International blames both the Houthis and Saudis for the chaos in Hodeida.

"In armed conflict, hospitals are supposed to be places of sanctuary. But as the battle for control of Hodeida intensifies, both sides seem intent on eviscerating the laws of war and disregarding the protected status of even the most vulnerable civilians," said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East research director at Amnesty International.

The Saudi coalition has come under intense international pressure to end the conflict, particularly following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an ardent critic of Prince Mohammed, in his country's consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

Multiple countries, including Germany and Norway, have announced the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi's killing.

United Nations' Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths is pushing for peace talks between the Houthis and the government by the end of the year.

On Saturday, the United States, which for years provided military training and aerial refuelling for the Saudi-led coalition, announced it would end its in-flight refuelling support for the alliance.

- with wires



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