SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- The Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen carried out airstrikes on the airport in the rebel-held port city of Hodeida, witnesses said on Sunday, as fighting raged on for the fifth day in the port city that's a lifeline to most of Yemen's population.
Sunday's airstrikes by the coalition forces were carried out in support of ground troops loyal to the internationally recognized exiled government, as they attempt to retake the airport. The witnesses said the airstrikes echoed across the city but the scale of the damage to the airport couldn't be immediately assessed. Security officials also said the Iran-backed rebels, known as Houthis, are holed up in the airport as the coalition forces attempt to drive them out.
The United Nations and international aid groups have cautioned that a protracted fight could force a shutdown of Hodeida's port at a time when a halt in aid risks tipping millions into starvation. Some 70 percent of Yemen's food enters via the port, as well as the bulk of humanitarian aid and fuel supplies. Around two-thirds of the country's population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.
On Saturday, U.N. special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths arrived in the rebel-held capital, Sanaa, in an effort to broker a cease-fire.
Impoverished Yemen has been devastated by the stalemated three-year civil war pitting the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-backed Houthis. The country's infrastructure and health system have been massively damaged and Yemen has become the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22.2 million people in need of assistance.