Warships of a Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels were on Tuesday moving toward the key Red Sea port of Hodeida under the cover of airstrikes on the city, witnesses told dpa.
Residents of the city said that coalition warplanes carried out heavy aerial raids on the city for the third day running, hitting a ship loaded with sugar, oil and other food supplies in the port as well as a naval base and air defense station.
Hodeida has been a key transit point for aid to Houthi-dominated northern Yemen, which is suffering from a deepening food crisis since the conflict escalated in March.
Locals said that workers and Houthi fighters fled the port, bringing operations there to a halt.
Gulf-backed anti-Houthi fighters have forced the mainly Shiite rebels from key positions in central Yemen in the past week, building on victories that saw the rebels expelled from most of the formerly independent south of the country.
The developments came as Amnesty International said the Saudi-led airstrikes and attacks on the ground by the Houthis and their opponents could amount to war crimes.
"Civilians in southern Yemen have found themselves trapped in a deadly crossfire between Houthi loyalists and anti-Houthi groups on the ground, while facing the persistent threat of coalition airstrikes from the sky," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's senior crisis response advisor.
The coalition forces conducted unlawful air strikes in "densely populated residential neighborhoods," while armed groups carried out "indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks in civilian areas," Amnesty said in a report on the conflict.
"The report depicts in harrowing detail the gruesome and bloody trail of death and destruction in Taiz and Aden from unlawful attacks, which may amount to war crimes, by all parties," Rovera said.
Amnesty researchers in Yemen examined eight airstrikes that killed at least 141 civilians and injured 101 others, mostly women and children.
It found "a pattern of strikes targeting heavily populated areas including civilian homes, a school, a market and a mosque."
"In the majority of cases no military target could be located nearby," it said.
The researchers also investigated 30 attacks by armed groups in Aden and Taiz that left at least 68 civilians dead and 99 injured.
Their report said both Houthi fighters and their opponents on the ground showed "utter disregard for the safety of civilians."
The armed groups "routinely used imprecise weapons including Grad-type rockets, mortars and artillery fire in densely populated residential areas," it said.
Fighting in Yemen intensified in March when the Houthis advanced on the former southern capital Aden, forcing President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi to flee to Riyadh and prompting a Saudi-led coalition to launch an air campaign against them.
The conflict has cost the lives of over 3,700 people, according to UN figures.
The Houthis, backed by military units loyal to Hadi's predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, are facing off against a range of local and tribal fighters, Sunni Islamists, southern secessionists and al-Qaeda militants.
Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis in the country, which suffered from severe poverty and food and water shortages even before the conflict.
The United Nations says that 21 million people — some 80 percent of Yemen's population — are currently in need of humanitarian assistance.
By Amal al-Yarisi and Bill Smith
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