DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on the war in Yemen (all times local):
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have announced what they say is a "multi-faceted plan" to protect civilians in Yemen's port city of Hodeida, where forces from both countries are leading an assault to drive out Yemeni rebels.
The plan, announced in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, late Wednesday, includes establishing routes for food, medical supplies and oil shipments to Hodeida from Saudi Arabia's southern city of Jizan and the UAE's capital, Abu Dhabi.
The two countries also vowed to distribute urgently-needed food supplies and to supply hospitals in Hodeida with medical equipment and staff. Officials from Saudi Arabia and the UAE also said the countries would work to ensure electricity continues to flow to Yemeni homes, hospitals and the port in Hodeida.
Aid groups have expressed grave concerns for the safety of hundreds of thousands of civilians in the city whose lives could be at risk from the assault launched Wednesday. Hodeida is the main entry point for food and humanitarian aid for the entire country.
Four Emirati soldiers have been killed in the Saudi-led operation to retake Yemen's port city of Hodeida from Shiite Houthi rebels.
The deaths are the first casualties to be confirmed by coalition forces since launching the assault against Hodeida early Wednesday.
The United Arab Emirates' state-run news agency published the names and ranks of the four soldiers, but did not give further details on how they died.
The war in Yemen has become the UAE's deadliest conflict, with the young nation losing more than 100 soldiers since the Saudi-led coalition went to war against the Iran-allied Yemeni rebels in March 2015.
The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Thursday on the Saudi-led coalition's offensive against Yemen's rebel-held Red Sea port of Hodeida.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, the current council president, told reporters Wednesday that the United Kingdom asked for the meeting. He said a senior official from the U.N. Secretariat would brief council members in closed consultations.
The Security Council has strongly supported efforts by new U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths to resume political negotiations and avoid a military escalation of the three-year-long conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million, and created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Griffiths warned in a statement earlier Wednesday that "further military escalation will have serious consequences on the dire humanitarian situation in the country" and hinder his efforts to restart political negotiations.
He called on all parties to engage with U.N. efforts "to spare Hodeida any military confrontation" and "give peace a chance."
The United Nations says it remains in Yemen's Red Sea port of Hodeida, the target of a new offensive by a Saudi-led coalition, and is working with aid groups to help those affected by the conflict.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York on Wednesday that aid partners are delivering 70,000 rapid response kits to "humanitarian service points" in and around Hodeida for newly displaced families.
He said the kits include food for a family of four for two weeks as well as hygiene items and other essential goods. He said vulnerable families are being given monthly food rations, hygiene kits, emergency shelter kits and "protection services."
Dujarric said partners are also providing fuel for water and sewage pumps and emergency rooms as well as support for health care services.
He said "aid operations will be severely challenged in the event of sustained fighting in densely populated urban areas" and stressed that people trying to flee conflict areas "must be allowed to do so without any hindrance."
The Red Sea port, controlled by Iran-aligned rebels known as Houthis, is the main point of entry for food and medicine in the war-torn country, which is already on the brink of famine.
Yemeni residents in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida say the Saudi-led coalition has dropped leaflets advising them to stay away from military and security points, and to stay in their homes, amid the coalition's assault.
Residents say they have heard shelling and air raids outside the city.
The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's exiled government began an assault Wednesday morning on Hodeida.
Yemeni officials say the battles are centered in and around the ad-Durayhimi district. They say a network of minefields in the rebel-held areas has hindered the advance of government forces.
The officials and residents spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media and for fear of reprisals.
Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa.
Yemeni officials say Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have hit most of the Houthi rebel defenses of Hodeida as part of the coalition's assault on the key Red Sea port town.
They say the fighting is raging in the coastal areas of ad-Durayhimi district.
Residents of coastal villages and other areas between ad-Durayhimi and southern Hodeida had left their homes ahead of the fighting.
The officials said government forces have headed to the eastern coast aiming at cutting off a rebel supply line between Hodeida and Sanaa. Naval forces, they said, are ready to join the fighting from the southern side of Hodeida.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The officials say the forces assigned to break into the city are comprised of three brigades of UAE-backed Amaleqa bridges.
One official says more than 2,000 troops trained in a military base in Eretria, have arrived at the port of Hodeida, assigned to secure the facility.
Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa.
Yemen's exiled government says their forces and allied Saudi-led troops launched their assault on Hodeida only after "exhausting all peaceful and political means."
The statement on the government-controlled SABA news agency early Wednesday morning called the battle for Hodeida "a milestone in our struggle to get Yemen back from the militias."
Exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and many of his advisers now live in Saudi Arabia after Shiite rebels known as Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014. A Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict in March 2015.
The Houthis did not immediately acknowledge the start of the battle.
Saudi-owned satellite news channels have announced the start of the Saudi-led coalition's assault on Hodeida.
Citing sources within the military, Dubai-based Al Arabiya said the battle began early Wednesday morning.
Al Arabiya is believed to be at least partially owned by Saudi Arabia's government.
There was no immediate word from state media in either Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, which lead a coalition backing Yemen's exiled government.
Gunfire has erupted near Yemen's port city of Hodeida as a Saudi-led coalition's deadline expired for Shiite rebels there to withdraw.
Social media users shared video of what appeared to be a convoy of vehicles approaching the crucial port city early Wednesday morning. The sound of heavy, sustained gunfire clearly could be heard.
Forces loyal to Yemen's exiled government and irregular fighters led by Emirati troops had neared Hodeida in recent days.
Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash earlier told French newspaper Le Figaro the deadline for a withdraw from Hodeida by Shiite rebels known as Houthis expired early Wednesday morning.
The United Nations and other aid groups had pulled their international staff from Hodeida ahead of the rumored assault.
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