Pro-government forces in Yemen began an assault Wednesday on the Yemeni port city of Hudaydah, which is held by Houthi rebels.
Strikes from a Saudi-led coalition began after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels ignored a deadline to withdraw by midnight local time Tuesday, BBC News reports.
The United Nations had been engaged in negotiations with stakeholders in the conflict in an effort to avoid a large-scale confrontation, and following a U.K. request, the U.N. Security Council is expected to meet to discuss the situation on Thursday.
Yemen’s civil war, which began in 2014, has become a broader regional conflict. Houthi rebels are a Zaydi Shiite religious minority who seized the capital Sanaa in 2014 and currently control a significant amount of territory in western Yemen. The Congressional Research Service notes that the Houthis have received support from Iran and Hezbollah, although the extent of their influence in the conflict is unclear.
Saudi Arabia intervened in support of the government of Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who remains in exile in Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates is part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, but its allegiance has changed over time, and its relationship with President Hadi has been tense.
The United States has encouraged a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the conflict, and has sought to ensure Yemenis retain access to humanitarian aid. The U.S. has also increased counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State affiliates.
A major battle in Hudaydah has potentially grave implications for the already-dire humanitarian situation in Yemen. The city is vital for aid shipments, as about 70 percent of Yemen’s imports go through its port. The International Crisis Group warned that a battle in Hodeida would "leave millions of Yemenis without food, fuel and other vital supplies." UNICEF said an attack would put approximately 300,000 children in the city at risk.
CNN reported in April that three-quarters of Yemen's population is in need of aid. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres told a donor conference that "nearly half of all children aged between six months and 5 years old [are] chronically malnourished."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated on Monday that the United States is "closely following developments in Hudaydah," and added the U.S. wants to preserve "the free flow of humanitarian aid and life-saving commercial imports."
David Satterfield, acting assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, told a House subcommittee that the State Department has "been very clear with the Saudis, the Emiratis, and with Yemeni officials, all of them, at every level, that destruction of critical infrastructure, disruption of the delivery of vital humanitarian aid remains unacceptable."