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On Wednesday, Saudi-led coalition troops launched an assault on Yemen's main port city of Hodeidah, in the biggest battle of a three-year war between an alliance of Arab states and the Iran-aligned Houthis.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see the Houthi rise as expansionism by their Shi'ite foe, Iran.

The assault threatens the safety of humanitarian workers in the city, as well as around 400,000 people living there, McManus said.

Aid agencies warned that the crucial battle in the three-year-old conflict could push the Arab world's poorest country into further chaos. Houthi media did not immediately report the attack.

"Kids are most vulnerable so they will die first".

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 coalition launched a major air campaign that the United Nations says has killed thousands of civilians and destroyed critical infrastructure across rebel-held Yemen.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, the current council president, told reporters Wednesday that the United Kingdom asked for the meeting.

More than 10,000 people have been killed since Saudi Arabia led a bombing campaign against the Houthis. By Wednesday morning, the diplomatic efforts were overshadowed by fighting. "We call on them to exercise restraint & engage with political efforts to spare Hodeida a military confrontation", he tweeted.

The sources said UAE-backed Yemeni forces - drawn from southern separatists, local units from the Red Sea coastal plain and a battalion led by a nephew of late former president Ali Abdullah Saleh - were "at the doors" of Hodeidah airport. This has made it by far the most important port for humanitarian aid, with estimates that as much as 70% of aid comes through the port.

He said the kits include food for a family of four for two weeks as well as hygiene items and other essential goods.

Dujarric said partners are also providing fuel for water and sewage pumps and emergency rooms as well as support for health care services.

United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi said there was a danger Yemenis might try to flee across the sea to Somalia or Djibouti.

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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 starvation.

He added that Saudi-led helicopters rushed to save the forces aboard the vessel, which is now burning near Yemen's coastline.

Yemeni officials say the battles are centered in and around the ad-Durayhimi district. It also said three pro-government fighters were killed in a rebel ambush south of Hodeidah. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorised to brief journalists.

Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa.

Having failed to stop the UAE from acting, the US military has helped Gulf allies develop a list of targets that should be off-limits, according to several reports citing unnamed USA officials.

A view of cranes, damaged by air strikes, at the container terminal of the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen November 30, 2017. The port is 150km (90 miles) south-west of Sanaa, Yemen's capital held by the Houthis since they swept into the city in September 2014. There was no immediate confirmation from the coalition.

Responding to the early stages of the attack-which began with an estimated 30 Saudi airstrikes within half an hour, guided by U.S. military intelligence-Win Without War wrote on Twitter that the attack is "a dark moment of shame for the United States".

Nearly 70% of Yemen's imports were entering the country through Hudaydah and Saleef by late May 2018, when pro-government forces backed by the United Arab Emirates advanced along the Red Sea coast to within 10km (6 miles) of Hudaydah.

Gunfire has erupted near Yemen's port city of Hodeida as a Saudi-led coalition's deadline expired for Shiite rebels there to withdraw.

Before dawn on Wednesday, convoys of vehicles appeared to be heading toward the rebel-held city, according to videos posted on social media.

"We hear sounds of explosions".

"These are the last and final hours to get unconditional guarantees that the Houthis will leave the port", UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told Reuters, but declined to discuss military operations.

The United Nations and aids groups have been scrambling to stall the attack, warning that an assault on Hodeidah could spiral out of control, compounding already arguably the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.