Houthi rebels incur higher death toll with 47 fighters killed as the battle for the strategic port city rages on.
Dozens of combatants were killed as pro-government forces closed in on rebel forces in the heart of the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah on Thursday, hospital sources said.
Medics at hospitals inside the city reported 47 rebels had been killed in overnight ground fighting and air raids by a Saudi-UAE coalition supporting the government.
Sources at hospitals in government-held areas on the outskirts said 11 soldiers had also been killed.
Aid agencies have long warned that fighting in Hodeidah risks escalating the dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where about half the population – some 14 million people – could soon be on the verge of famine.
The Huthis have controlled Hodeida since 2014 when they overran the capital Sanaa and then swept though much of the rest of the country, triggering Saudi-led military intervention the following year and a devastating war of attrition.
The Red Sea port city is the entry point for some 70 percent of the countrys commercial imports and a vast portion of the UN-supervised humanitarian aid.
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Separately, rights group Amnesty International warned against Houthi rebels taking up positions on a hospital rooftop in Hodeidah. The rights monitor fears that the rebels, accused of ties to Iran, might try to use health facilities and patients as human shields to ward off coalition air attacks.
Video: Yemeni pro-government forces advance towards Hodeida
Amnestys Samah Hadid says the Houthi presence on the hospital rooftop “violates international humanitarian law, but this violation does not make the hospital and the patients and medical staff lawful targets” for the coalition.
A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in 2015 after Houthi rebels dislodged the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Yemen is now home to the worlds worst humanitarian crisis, which has killed at least 10,000 people since 2015, according to the UN.
The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, an independent watchdog, recently said around 56,000 Yemenis had been killed in the violence.
UNICEF warned on Tuesday that the battle for Hodeidah placed the “lives of 59 children, including 25 in the intensive care unit, at imminent risk of death”.
The International Committee of the Red Cross on Wednesday appealed for warring parties to “spare civilians and civilian infrastructure” including ambulances, hospitals, electricity and water plants.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Hadi appointed Mohammed al-Maqdishi as new defence minister and Abdullah Al-Nakhi as new army chief of staff, according to the official SABA news agency.
Maqdishis predecessor, Mahmoud al-Subaihi, has been held by the Houthis since 2014 when the latter seized control of the capital Sanaa.
Aid groups warned of the plight of civilians in Yemen's contested Hudaida where casualties are mounting as the Saudi-led coalition are fighting to take the port city from the country's Shia rebels.
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Amnesty International warned late Wednesday that rebels have taken up positions on a Hudaida hospital rooftop, raising concerns they are using the hospital's patients as human shields to ward off coalition airstrikes.
Saudi-led coalition troops take key Hodeida neighbourhood
Doctors Without Borders, meanwhile, said it was treating two dozen wounded from the latest offensive.
The push against the Iran-backed rebels also known as Houthis who are holding Hudaida began anew this month, shortly after the United States called for a ceasefire by the end of the month.
Apparently in a rush to try to take Hudaida before then, coalition artillery, helicopter gunships and airstrikes have pounded the rebels since then, with dozens killed on both sides.
Ceasefires in Yemen's civil war have rarely held, and peace talks have repeatedly broken down in the past.
Amnesty urged the warring sides to protect civilians. It said that the coalition, which relies heavily on air power, has killed scores of civilians in recent airstrikes, and rebels are responding with mortars in residential neighborhoods that cause indiscriminate casualties.
"The presence of Houthi fighters on the hospital's roof violates international humanitarian law," said Amnesty's Samah Hadid, adding that "this violation does not make the hospital and the patients and medical staff lawful targets" for the coalition.
Hadid said the hospital was full of wounded "civilians who have nowhere else to go for lifesaving medical care. Anyone attacking a hospital under these conditions risks responsibility for war crimes."
The success of congressional Democrats, who took back control of the House of Representatives in yesterdays midterm elections, poses new challenges for the White House. It will no longer have a Republican-dominated Congress to work with throughout the second half of President Donald Trumps term. Although Democratic lawmakers will have limited means to change the administrations foreign policy in the Middle East, especially with the Senate remaining in GOP hands, congressional pressure may impact Trumps handling of the Yemen war, where Washington has backed Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)s campaign against Houthi rebels since March 2015.
The conflict in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis who toppled the internationally recognised government.
The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the rebels since 2015, in an attempt to restore that government to power.
From the standpoint of many Democrats, Trumps foreign policy has become too transactional. As Trumps congressional opponents speak out about the presidents close ties with Saudi Arabias leadership amid the Khashoggi cases fallout, the Washington-Riyadh relationship has become more of a domestic issue in the United States. In stark contrast to 2016, the issue of Yemen and Washingtons (partial) responsibility for the humanitarian disaster became an electoral talking point this year for Democratic candidates.
In recent days, fighting intensified with troops trained by the United Arab Emirates, a coalition member, advanced in eastern Hodeida, pushing toward the city's port and key Red Sea facilities, some 5 kilometres away.
The rebels have controlled Hodeida since 2014 when they overran the capital Sanaa and then swept though much of the rest of the country, triggering a Saudi-led military intervention the following year and a devastating war of attrition.
Doctors Without Borders reported an influx of wounded civilians in recent days, with 24 wounded, including women and children from Hudaida, with mostly blast and gunshot injuries.
UAE-trained Giants assault force secures key road into Hodeidah
The aid group said civilians were reported leaving Hudaida over the weekend but that it was difficult to assess how many remained trapped inside.
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The killing of Jamal Khashoggi may have triggered a ceasefire in Yemen, and possibly peace in the war-torn country, according to the president of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
David Miliband, who is a former British foreign secretary and member of parliament, said while the journalist's death was tragic, international focus on Khashoggi's murder should be switched to actions of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, where millions of lives are affected.
"Maybe the killing of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi thugs has created a new mantra: one death can be the spark that forestalls the suffering of millions," Miliband said in an opinion piece on CNN.
Miliband was referring to US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's call on all participants in the Yemen civil war to agree to a ceasefire "in the next 30 days," last month.
"The suffering in Yemen has gone unacknowledged for far too long – and has emboldened those willing to act with impunity," Miliband said. "Jamal Khashoggi's legacy should be accountability not just for the suffering of one, but of millions."