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Yemen: Dozens of children at 'risk of death' in Hodeidah hospital

At least 59 children at al-Thawra hospital in the Yemeni port city at 'imminent risk of death,' the UN's child rights agency says
Displaced children from Hodeidah province pictured in September in Taiz (AFP/File photo)

The lives of dozens of children in a hospital in Hodeidah are at “imminent risk,” the United Nations said, as fighting intensified in the Yemeni port city.

At least 59 children at al-Thawra hospital are in danger, including 25 who are currently in the intensive care unit, the UN’s child rights agency UNICEF said on Tuesday.

“Medical staff and patients in the hospital have confirmed hearing heavy bombing and gunfire. Access to and from the hospital, the only functioning one in the area, is now imperilled,” the agency said in a statement.

Fighting has raged in Hodeidah between forces backing exiled Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi - who also have the support of an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia - and Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

On Monday afternoon, the battles took place about five kilometres from the city’s coveted port.

Dozens of Saudi-led air strikes have hit several areas of Hodeidah since Friday when pro-Hadi forces launched their latest assault on the Houthi-held city. Warplanes have been hovering above the city at all times and residents told MEE that they did not dare leave their homes.

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Five days of battles have left more than 150 combatants dead, AFP news agency reported on Tuesday.

UNICEF said about 40 percent of the 400,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition in Yemen live in Hodeidah and the surrounding areas.

The city’s port is also extremely important, as “up to 80 percent of Yemen’s humanitarian supplies, fuel and commercial goods” are delivered there, it said.

“The toll in lives could be catastrophic if the port is damaged, destroyed or blocked,” said UNICEF, as it called for an end to fighting near and around the hospital and to any attacks on civilian infrastructure, including the port.

“UNICEF’s teams on the ground are delivering assistance including lifesaving supplies like medicines, clean water and therapeutic food to treat acutely malnourished children. Further escalation in the fighting will jeopardise these efforts.”

Doctors Without Borders also said it has witnessed "an increase in violence, ground fighting and aerial and naval bombardments" and that the frontlines are getting closer to civilian areas and facilities, including another hospital in Hodeidah called al-Salakhana.

More than 300 patients have been admitted to that facility's emergency room since October, the group said on Twitter.

As the fighting intensifies, MSF said it "is concerned for patients and staff at Al Salakhana hospital and for thousands of residents who remain in the city". 

"All parties to the conflict must ensure that civilians and facilities such as hospitals are protected in #Yemen," the group tweeted.

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