Yemen's legitimate army reaches vicinity of Hodeidah Airport

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France provided minesweeping support at the UAE's request after the United States did not want to or was not able to, but it's not clear if the mass assault on Hudaydah received other support in the form of intelligence, surveillance or reconnaissance assets, as the Emirates requested.

The Emiratis turned to France, which agreed to provide the minesweepers to clear explosives that Houthi fighters had been placing in Hodeida harbor, the official said, effectively thwarting for now an amphibious assault of the port.

Fighters backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pushed toward the Yemeni port city of Hodeida on Thursday, on the second day of a battle that analysts say could be the bloodiest of the Yemen war.

The swift advance was an important early success for the Saudi- and Emirati-led alliance, which launched the operation in Hodeidah three days ago and says it can seize the city quickly enough to avoid interrupting aid to millions facing starvation.

The military source also said the fired missiles hit the aggressors' positions precisely, killing and injuring dozens of the enemy forces.

Dawad also said the southern gate of Hodeida city was captured by pro-coalition forces.

The Houthis deployed military vehicles and troops in the city centre and near the port, as warplanes struck the coast to the south, residents said.

More than 22 million people in Yemen are in need of aid, including 8.4 million who are at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations, which considers Yemen to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Although the coalition says it has "exhausted" all diplomatic means and insists that humanitarian aid will continue once the operation is complete, the United States is trying to distance itself from the assault, according to CBS. The government is supported by Saudi Arabia and others.

The Arab states say they must recapture Hodeidah to deprive the Houthis of their main source of income and prevent them from bringing in missiles.

Two Saudi and UAE aid ships were in the waters off Hodeida, coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki told Saudi state media.

The United Nations and other aid groups already had pulled their worldwide staff from Hodeida ahead of the assault.

But a Huthi attack some 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the city provided a diversion, cutting loyalist forces off from the government-held ports of Khokha and Mokha, sparking fresh clashes along the coastline.

The Houthis have controlled Hodeida for the last two years.

The offensive by Saudi Arabia and Arab allies comes after the Yemen government said it had exhausted all peaceful and political means to remove the militia from the port of Hodeida, which has been under Houthi control since 2015.

In New York, the UN Security Council met privately for two hours to discuss Yemen but took no action to ensure the safety of civilians in Hodeida.

The newly appointed United Nations envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, speaks to reporters upon his arrival at Sanaa airport in Sanaa, Yemen, March 24, 2018.

The General Command of the UAE's armed forces said four Emirati soldiers were killed during the assault on Hudaydah.

The city and its port have been under Huthi control since 2014, when the Iran-backed insurgents drove the government out of the capital Sanaa and much of the country, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee into exile.

On Thursday, authorities said the Red Sea lifeline remained open to shipping.

The UN has warned that the assault could end up killing as many as 250,000 civilians and exacerbate the already awful conditions in Yemen, as Hodeidah is the main hub for delivering humanitarian aid to the country, where millions are on the brink of starvation.

Aid workers have warned the assault on Hodieda's port, known as the "mouth of Yemen", could shut down the vital route for some 70 percent of Yemen's food and humanitarian aid.