Rights group: Yemen's west coast offensive displaces masses

CAIRO — Raging battles between forces loyal to Yemen's internationally recognized government and Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, along the country's west coast have displaced tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians, especially from the coastal province of Hodeida, an international rights group said in a report released Thursday.

The Yemeni government offensive supported by ground troops and air cover from a Saudi-led coalition is part of attempts to regain control over rebel-held areas along the country's west coast, Amnesty International said. The offensive has sent Yemenis fleeing to government-controlled areas including Aden, the group said, warning that "the worst could be yet to come."

The report includes testimonies of displaced Yemenis who described "terrifying mortar attacks, air strikes, landmines and other dangers" amid the offensive. They also said fleeing the clashes was costly, forcing them to sell precious belongings to fund the perilous trip.

"It was really a difficult trip. By God we suffered. There were rockets flying above us," said a 25-year-old woman who was not identified in the report. "Someone would stop us and say there are projectiles, and then someone else would stop us and say there are landmines, and we would just scream." She described scenes of dead bodies, including ones "ripped to pieces" en route.

The report, citing the United Nations, says fighting along Yemen's west coast has displaced 100,000 people in recent months, mostly from the Red Sea port city of Hodeida. The port is a vital lifeline from which most of the Yemeni population's food and medicine comes. The coalition accuses the Houthis of using Hodeida and other ports to receive supplies of arms and ammunition from Iran.

Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war pitting the coalition against the Iran-backed Houthis since March 2015. The coalition aims to restore the government of self-exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power.

The three-year stalemated war has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 3 million. It has also damaged Yemen's infrastructure, crippled its health system and pushed it to the brink of famine. The impoverished country is also now the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22.2 million people in need of assistance. Malnutrition, cholera and other diseases have killed or sickened thousands of civilians over the years.

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