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Dec 15, 11:21 AM EST

Yemeni officials say foreign aid workers have left port city



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Yemeni officials say foreign aid workers have left port city

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SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Foreign humanitarian workers with the United Nations and other international organizations have left Yemen's Red Sea port city of Hodeida because of intensified fighting there, Yemeni officials said on Friday.

Their departure came as Yemen's Shite rebels, known as Houthis, stepped up fighting with forces loyal to the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi along the Red Sea coast of Hodeida and western Yemen.

Local employees with the U.N. and other organizations are now doing the humanitarian work in rebel-held Hodeida, a lifeline for most of Yemen's population, said the officials.

Hadi's forces, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, have made military advances over the past week, capturing several rebel-held areas, including the coastal district of al-Khoukha, about 135 kilometers (84 miles) from Hodeida.

The Houthis, however, claimed their forces were able to regain control of some areas captured by Hadi, allegedly killing more than 120 of their enemies over the past three days.

Fighting has escalated between the Houthis and Hadi's forces after the killing of Yemen's ex-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, earlier this month at the hands of his onetime allies, the Shiite rebels. Saleh's slaying followed his announcement that he was willing to turn a new page with the Saudi-led coalition, a move the rebels saw as betrayal.

On Friday, tribal officials said Hadi's forces seized several rebel-held areas in the southern province of Shabwa, including the district of Bayhan which has been under Houthi control since 2015. The fighting killed at least 54 on both sides, the tribal officials added.

In the southwestern province of Taiz, suspected Saudi-led coalition airstrikes killed at least eight civilians and wounded 15 others, officials also said.

All the officials and tribal elders spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

The coalition has been fighting to defeat the Iran-backed rebels since March 2015 and to reinstate Hadi's government.

Since the beginning of the conflict, it imposed an air and sea blockade on the impoverished country, allowing only occasional humanitarian access. The blockade has been criticized by international groups, which say it is deepening the humanitarian suffering of Yemenis.

The civil war has caused profound misery among Yemen's 28 million people. More than 10,000 civilians have been killed in fighting and airstrikes; food-supply and medical infrastructure has collapsed, causing a humanitarian emergency of hunger and cholera.

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