Forces from a Saudi-led coalition siezed the entrance of the airport outside Yemen's main port, Hodeidah, on Friday, as the Arab alliance prepared to seize the city in the biggest battle of a three-year war.
Forces of the coalition, led by Emirati troops, have advanced to within metres of the airport, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television quoted Yemeni military officials as saying.
The city and its port have been under Huthi control since 2014, when the Iran-backed insurgents drove the government out of the capital Sanaa and much of the country, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee into exile.
SABA reported late Wednesday the forces captured the town of Nakhilia in the district of ad-Durayhimi about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) south of Hodeida International Airport.
But a successful operation would require capturing a city of 600,000 people without inflicting damage that would destroy the port.
The rights group called on all parties of the conflict to minimize civilian harm during the fight for Hodeida.
An official of the United Arab Emirates, part of the coalition, told Reuters on Thursday that France had agreed to provide minesweeping support for the operation and that UAE intelligence indicated that the Houthi rebels, who control the city, had mined the port.
Fighting In Yemen Port City Threatens Aid Shipments The fighting in a Yemeni port city is reportedly increasing, threatening aid shipments.
A Saudi military spokesman said the forces were drawing closer to the Red Sea port in a campaign aimed at driving out Iranian-aligned Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who have held Hodeida since 2015, and breaking the civil war's long stalemate.
Ambassador Obaid Salem al-Zaabi made the comments during a news conference with journalists Thursday.
"Any closure of the port, even for a few days, will have a dramatic impact on the humanitarian operations in the country", the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, told The Associated Press Thursday. The government is supported by Saudi Arabia and others.
Military officials said preparations were under way for a final push to take the airport and that the ground battles had largely subsided by sunset Friday.
Meanwhile, the US, which has backed the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence, logistical support and aerial refueling of fighter jets, has not publicly opposed the assault but has urged the coalition to ensure that humanitarian aid deliveries to the port continue.
The violence has devastated Yemen's infrastructure, including water and sanitation systems, prompting the United Nations to describe the situation as one of "the worst humanitarian disasters in modern times".
About 600,000 people live in and around Hudaida, and "as many as 250,000 people may lose everything - even their lives" in the assault, the United Nations has warned.
"They did not encourage us, but did not discourage us", the official said.
Instead, council members "reiterated their call for the ports of Hudaydah and Saleef to be kept open", said Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who holds the council presidency.
The ship was struck during the initial Saudi-led coalition assault on the Yemeni city of Hodeidah, which is spearheaded by the UAE and codenamed Golden Victory.
Heavy fighting left 39 people dead on Thursday, a day after the coalition launched an assault to recapture the city controlled by the Iran-allied Houthis.
An worldwide rights group has urged the United Nations Security Council to warn parties to the Yemen war that they will face sanctions if they fail to provide civilians access to desperately needed aid. From the 90 per cent of food, fuel, and medicines imported in Yemen, 70 per cent of that enters through Hodeida. The US has been supplying crucial information to the Saudi-led coalition, as well as refueling their warplanes.
An administration official acknowledged that the coalition would like the U.S.to get more involved militarily in the battle to free the port, but so far that has not happened.