WFP says port city fighting threatens millions of Yemenis

A recent bout of fighting between Yemeni government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition and Shiite rebels around the Red Sea port city of Hodeida could jeopardize shipments of 46,000 tons of wheat expected to arrive within the next ten days, the World Food Program said on Friday.

The latest offensive began last week following the failure of what was hoped to be renewed peace talks to resume in Geneva. It was concentrated in the eastern and southern entrances to the city, which is considered the lifeline of Yemen.

WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said humanitarian workers, infrastructure and food supplies have been targeted in recent days as clashes are still ongoing near the Red Sea Mill Silos, a critical facility for WFP operations.

The fighting could impact WFP's ability to supply up to 3.5 million people in dire need in northern and central Yemen for one month, he said.

He said a mortar shell launched by an unidentified armed group also hit a WFP warehouse in Hodeida city holding enough food to assist 19,200 people, wounding a guard at the warehouse.

The fighting for Hodeida has also effectively shut down the main artery linking the port city to the rest of the country, the Save the Children charity said Thursday.

Tamer Kirolos of Save the Children said "it's quite literally a matter of life and death" for the main road linking Hodeida to the capital Sanaa to remain open.

"This year alone we expect some 400,000 children under five to suffer from severe acute malnutrition ... Unless supply routes remain open this figure could increase dramatically, putting the lives of thousands of children at risk from entirely preventable causes," he said.

He urged warring parties "to end hostilities immediately, commit to a ceasefire and give peace a chance."

The government forces first tried to retake Hodeida in June, but their offensive was stalemated by the rebels' resistance.

One main objective of the ongoing offensive is to cut off the road between Hodeida and Sanaa, thus depriving the capital city, which is controlled by the Iranian-backed Houthis, from supplies arriving by sea. Government forces are also trying to cut off the road to Taiz, a fiercely contested and strategic city south of Hodeida.

A Saudi apache meanwhile crashed in Yemen's easternmost province of al-Mahra on Friday, killing two crew people, tribal leaders said on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency, quoting military spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki, acknowledged the death of a "pilot and his co-pilot" in a helicopter that crashed following a "technical fault." He said the Saudi Royal Land Forces helicopter went down at 8:20 a.m. Friday while conducting operations in Yemen's al-Mahra province.

Impoverished Yemen has been embroiled in the war pitting the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-aligned Houthis since March 2015. The war against the rebels has devastated impoverished Yemen, turning the Arab nation into the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 20 million people in need of assistance.