Yemeni government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition have cut off a crucial supply route between Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and the port city of Hodeidah, in a major blow to the Houthi rebels which control both cities.
UN officials had hoped peace talks would prevent an attack on Hodeidah, which is a lifeline for millions of ordinary Yeminis as the entry point for most of Yemen’s imports and aid supplies.
Officials fear an attack on Hodeidah could trigger famine in a country where an estimated 8.4 million people are starving.
Planned peace talks between Houthi forces and the Saudi-backed Yemini government collapsed on Saturday after the Houthi delegation failed to attend.
Abdul Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi rebels, accused the coalition of blocking his team’s movement so they were unable to attend the talks.
Khaled al-Yamani, Yemen’s foreign minister, said the Houthis were ”trying to sabotage the negotiations.”
The Saudi and Western-backed military alliance then resumed its offensive against Hodeidah.
The coalition of Sunni Muslim states, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has repeatedly claimed they would be able to force the Houthi movement into negotiations through cutting off their main supply line.
“The main entrance in Hodeidah leading to Sana’a has been closed after forces backed by the UAE took control of the road,” a pro-coalition military source told Reuters.
The city’s residents said the main eastern gate had been damaged in coalition airstrikes and fighting was continuing on secondary roads near the main road.
A second, more circuitous, road could still be used as a supply route between Hodeidah and Sana’a.
The United Nations said 981 civilians, including 300 children, died in Yemen in August alone. Estimates for the overall death toll ranges from 10,000 killed to five times as many.