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Yemen government forces advance on strategic town of Hodeida

Hodeida has been a point of contention in Yemen's war since Saudi Arabia and its allies started a bombing campaign
Pro-government fighters are 20km from port city of Hodeida (AFP)

Yemeni government forces are only around 20 kilometres from Hodeida as they advance on the key rebel-held port city, the Saudi-led military coalition said on Monday.

The Red Sea port has been a point of contention in Yemen's war since Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened on behalf of the government in 2015 against Houthi rebels.

"The Yemeni army backed by the coalition is at a distance of around 20 kilometres from Hodeida," coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki told reporters in Riyadh.

"The purpose is to return the city back to the legitimate government of Yemen. Our operations are ongoing," he added.

Hodeida is the main conduit for humanitarian aid on which millions depend, as Yemen teeters on the brink of famine. 

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There has been fierce fighting in the city recently. Last month, one of the Houthis' top officials was killed in an air strike by Saudi Arabia.

Saleh al-Samad was the head of the group’s supreme political council and the most senior Houthi official to be killed in Yemen’s civil war.

But for neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Hodeida is seen as the entry point for rebel weaponry, which it accuses regional rival Tehran of supplying.

"Our goal is to cut the vein that the Houthis are benefiting from" in their war effort, Maliki said.

There was no immediate comment from the rebels about Maliki's claim.

The United Arab Emirates - a key member of the Saudi-led alliance - has taken the initiative to ramp up the coastal offensive, with the stated goal of retaking Hodeida. 

In November 2017, the coalition announced a total blockade on Hodeida in response to a rebel ballistic missile attack that targeted the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

That embargo was eased under international pressure, but the coalition has meanwhile set its sights on retaking Hodeida by land - especially as rebel missile attacks have increased. 

The United Nations has warned that any operation aimed at seizing Hodeida itself would disrupt the entry of aid shipments to Yemen, 70 percent of which flow through the rebel-held port. 

Nearly 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led alliance launched a deadly campaign in Yemen in March 2015, contributing to what the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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