Dozens of people have reportedly been killed in clashes and air raids around the Yemeni city of Hodeidah following the collapse of UN-sponsored peace talks between the internationally recognised government and Houthi rebels.
A Saudi-UAE coalition backing government forces launched an offensive in June to retake the strategic port city – the main gateway for imports of relief supplies and commercial goods – from rebel fighters who have held it since 2014.
“Multiple sources have reported that dozens, if not scores, of people have been killed in the past 24 hours after Saudi-UAE-led coalition attacks,” said Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from neighbouring Djibouti.
“In fact, one source said that there had been 60 attacks,” he added, noting that the situation is “definitely escalating in a fairly big way”.
He added that reports suggest the likelihood of civilian deaths is high.
“We have heard reports from the Saudi side that civilians trying to escape Hodeidah ran into minefields laid by the Houthis. The Houthis say they [the civilians] were bombed by a series of strikes,” said Simmons.
Separately, hospital sources in Hodeidah province told AFP news agency that 84 people – 73 rebel fighters and 11 government soldiers – had been killed since the attempted peace talks in Switzerland were abandoned on Saturday after Houthi representatives failed to show up.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify the casualty figures.
The rebels refused to leave Yemen for Geneva, saying the UN had not met their demands – including a plane to transport their wounded to nearby Oman and a guarantee their delegation would be allowed to return to the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa.
Hodeidah’s seaport was responsible for delivering 70 percent of Yemen’s imports – mostly humanitarian aid, food and fuel – before 2015.
Yet, Saudi Arabia says that the Houthis, who reportedly generate $30m to $40m a month in revenue from the port, are using it to smuggle in weapons from Iran.
In July, the Saudi-UAE coalition announced a temporary ceasefire to give a chance to UN-brokered peace talks.
The war in Yemen, the region’s poorest country, started in 2014 after Houthi rebels seized control of Sanaa and began pushing south towards Aden, the country’s third-biggest city.
Concerned by the rise of the Houthi rebels, the coalition launched a military offensive in 2015 in the form of a massive air campaign aimed at reinstalling the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
According to the UN, at least 10,000 people have been killed in the war – a death toll that has not been updated in years and is certain to be far higher.
The UN says Yemen, which stands at the brink of famine, is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The coalition launched a major offensive to retake Hodeidah in June.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND AGENCIES