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SANAA, Yemen — Heavy fighting in Yemen between pro-government forces and Shiite rebels has killed more than 600 people on both sides in recent days, security officials said Monday.
Government forces, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, have been advancing along the western coast in recent weeks as they battle the Iran-allied rebels known as Houthis. The fighting has escalated as government forces close in on the Red Sea port of Hodeida, a vital lifeline through which most of Yemen’s food and medicine enters.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media. Witnesses, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the fighting has forced dozens of families to leave their homes.
Mark Lowcock, the top United Nations official for humanitarian affairs and relief coordination, said Monday that it is critical to prevent “a battle” for Hodeida. He said that “90 percent of food, fuel and medicines in Yemen are imported” — and 70 percent come through the port, including desperately needed aid for more than 7 million people.
The aid group Oxfam said humanitarian organizations received warnings over the weekend for staff to evacuate Hodeida by Tuesday ahead of an offensive.
The United Nations warned Friday that an attack on or siege of Hodeida would affect hundreds of thousands of civilians. Some 600,000 people live in and around the city.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said Monday that there has been a recent lull in the fighting and that Martin Griffiths, the U.N. envoy for Yemen, “is shuttling between Sanaa and also the UAE and Saudi Arabia to hope that there will be a way to avoid the military confrontation in Hodeida.”
The international aid group Doctors Without Borders said Monday that the Saudi-led coalition attacked a cholera treatment center in the northern province of Hajja. The group has temporarily frozen its activities in the area, “until we guarantee the safety of our staff and patients,” João Martins, its head of mission in Yemen, tweeted.
Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war pitting the coalition against the Iran-backed Houthis since March 2015. The coalition aims to restore the government of self-exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The stalemated war has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 3 million. It has damaged Yemen’s infrastructure, crippled its health system and pushed the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.
— Associated Press