Coalition forces advance towards port city of Hodeida, controlled by Al Houthi militia. Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: A Saudi-led Arab alliance fighting Al Houthis in Yemen Wednesday stepped up air strikes on the Iran-allied militants’ positions in the port city of Hodeida, where coalition-supported government forces have advanced in a renewed offensive, military sources said.

Coalition jets unleashed a string of strikes on the northern edges of Hodeida with the aim of helping Yemeni forces to progress on a route linking Hodeida to the north-western province of Hajjah and the province of Mahwit in the north, they added, according to Al Arabiya.

Government forces, supported by the Saudi-led coalition’s air power, have tightened the noose on the southern, western and eastern sections of Hodeida since they started a major operation last week aimed at expelling Al Houthis from the Red Sea city and its crucial port.

Most of Yemen’s humanitarian aid and imports go through the Hodeida port.

The government and coalition accuse Al Houthis of taking advantage of their control of the Hodeida port to obtain weapons from their Iranian patrons as well as confiscate aid intended for Yemenis in order to sustain their war effort.

On Wednesday, government loyalists were combing Hodeida’s southern and eastern districts in preparation for a new push into the city, which has been under the extremists’ control since late 2014.

Government forces are battling Al Houthi militiamen a few kilometres of the Hodeida port, September Net, linked to the Yemeni Defence Ministry, reported.

At least 23 Al Houthi militiamen were killed in clashes with government forces inside Hodeida whereas 14 other rebels, including snipers, surrendered, according to the report.

Dozens of militant leaders and fighters left the embattled city for Hajjah and the rebel-controlled capital Sana’a, September Net said.

Al Houthis have deployed their gunmen atop and around the May 22 Hospital, a major facility in Hodeida, in an attempt to stop government forces from advancing, Yemeni media reported, citing local residents.

The escalating fight in Hodeida comes amid increasing international calls for Yemen’s warring sides to end the years-long conflict. The US has urged the combatants to observe a ceasefire by the end of this month.

UN envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths is trying to bring the government and the rebels for a new round of peace talks, which Sweden offered to host this month.

The government has announced readiness for peacemaking, while Al Houthis have demanded the US stop support for the coalition.

UN-brokered indirect talks for Yemen’s peace collapsed in September when rebels did not appear in Geneva.

Al Houthis have plunged Yemen into devastating unrest since late 2014 when they deposed the internationally recognised government and overran parts of the country, including the capital Sana’a and Hodeida.

In 2015, the Arab coalition, led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, intervened in the country in response to a request from its government.