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Yemeni forces make new gains in Hodeida advance – coalition

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Yemeni government forces are only around 9 kilometers (6 miles) from Hodeida, the Saudi-led military coalition said Monday, June 4, announcing fresh gains in their advance on the strategic rebel-held port city.

The coalition-backed forces are closing in on the Red Sea port, the main conduit for humanitarian supplies into a country where millions of people are in dire need of food aid.

"The Yemeni army backed by coalition forces are 9 kilometers from Hodeida," coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki told reporters in Riyadh.

Last Monday, Maliki said the forces were around 20 kilometers from Hodeida.

The battle for the port, controlled by Iran-allied Huthi rebels, has left more than 100 soldiers and insurgents dead in less than a week, medics and military sources said at the weekend.

"We are getting reinforcements... removing mines... in preparation for subsequent operations," Maliki said, adding that the coalition was focused on protecting civilian lives.

"Once the measures are in place, the forces will advance to liberate Hodeida."

UN envoy Martin Griffiths was in the rebel-held capital Sanaa on Monday for talks with Huthi rebels about de-escalating the fighting around Hodeida.

The United Nations has warned that any operation aimed at seizing Hodeida itself would disrupt the entry of aid shipments to Yemen, 70% of which flow through the rebel-held port.

The port has been a point of contention in Yemen's war since Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened on behalf of the government in 2015 against the rebels.

Hodeida is crucial for aid deliveries as Yemen teeters on the brink of famine, but for Saudi Arabia it is an entry point for rebel weaponry – which it accuses regional rival Tehran of supplying.

The United Arab Emirates – a key member of the Saudi-led alliance – has taken the initiative to ramp up the coastal offensive, with the stated goal of taking Hodeida.

Nearly 10,000 people have been killed since the alliance launched its intervention in Yemen in March 2015, contributing to what the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis. – Rappler.com