Washington: UN envoy Esmail Ould Shaikh Ahmad, told a panel of the Middle East Institute in Washington that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the principal fighting forces in the coalition, have valid concerns about “the continued import of arms flowing through Hodeidah and illegal taxation of commercial imports by Al Houthis.”

He warned that any military action in the area would “need to take into account the need to avoid any further deterioration in the humanitarian situation.”

The World Food Programme said earlier this month that the governorates of Taiz and Hodeidah risked slipping into famine if they did not receive more aid.

The International Rescue Committee has said any attack targeting the port would disrupt port facilities and “have a catastrophic impact on the people of Yemen.”

Yemen’s internationally-backed government says Al Houthis’ control of Hodeidah threatens international maritime navigation.

“Our government recognises the significance of Hodeidah’s port for aid delivery, and therefore rooting out Al Houthis will eliminate their destructive meddling in aid distribution,” Yemen’s ambassador to the United States, Ahmad Awad Bin Mubarak, said.

Ould Shaikh Ahmad and the United Nations have expressed concern over possible military action on Hodeidah.

The previous US administration of Barack Obama was wary of operations involving the port and last year rejected a proposal to assist its Gulf allies in a push to take control of it.

Yemen has been divided by two years of civil war that pits the Iran-backed Al Houthi militants against a Western-backed Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia that is carrying out air strikes.

At least 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

The Red Sea port near the Bab Al Mandab strait is under the control of Yemen’s armed Al Houthi movement. The Bab Al Mandab is a waterway through which nearly 4 million barrels of oil is shipped daily.

The United States is considering deepening its role in Yemen’s conflict by more directly aiding the Saudi-led coalition and the proposed support could allow America to assist an eventual push on Hodeidah.

Yemeni president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi came to power in early 2012 after massive Arab Spring protests ousted Saleh.

He was forced to decamp to the city of Aden after escaping Al Houthi-imposed house arrest after the rebels took over the government in a coup in 2014.

Since then, Hadi shifted government headquarters to Aden from where he has led an offensive to liberate Al Houthi-occupied territories.

With help from the Saudi-led Arab coalition, it has achieved widespread gains in many provinces, but Al Houthis still control the capital Sana’a and most northern provinces including Hodeidah, Ibb, Mahweet, Yareem, Amran, Baydha and Hajja