Yemen's biggest port, Hodeidah is the lifeline for the majority of Yemen's population, which lives in Houthi territory.
The United Nations and aids groups have been scrambling to stall the attack, warning that an assault on Hodeidah could spiral out of control, compounding already arguably the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.
The Arab states' aim is to box in the Houthis in Sanaa, cut their supply lines and force them to the negotiating table. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other members of the coalition have fought to restore the ousted government and roll back Iran's influence in the region.
For a little more than three years, Yemen has been locked in a seemingly intractable civil war that has killed almost 10,000 people and pushed millions to the brink of starvation. Meanwhile, the U.N. and Western nations say Iran has supplied the Houthis with weapons from assault rifles up to the ballistic missiles they have fired deep into Saudi Arabia, including at the capital, Riyadh.
Yemen's United Nations humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande said a "worst case" in an assault on Hodedia would mean 250,000 people "losing everything - even their lives". Some 8.4 million people in Yemen face pre-famine conditions, according to the World Health Organisation. However, Griffiths' recent appointment as envoy and his push for new negotiations may have encouraged the Saudi-led coalition to strengthen its hand ahead of any peace talks with the Houthis.
"Under worldwide humanitarian law, parties to the conflict have to do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they need to survive", Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, told Reuters by e-mail.
Washington had also cautioned against the assault. This has made it by far the most important port for humanitarian aid, with estimates that as much as 70% of aid comes through the port.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators including leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to express their "grave alarm" about circumstances in Hodeida.
Speaking to reporters this week, Mattis said that US support would continue at its current levels, and suggested USA aerial refueling, which lengthens flight times, increased the accuracy of Saudi and UAE bombing raids and so cut down on civilian casualties.
It wasn't immediately clear what specific American support the coalition was receiving Wednesday.
The exiled Yemeni government said in a statement issued by its media office said that cCoalition warplanes and warships were carrying out strikes on Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by Yemeni troops massed south of the Red Sea port in operation "Golden Victory".
The Houthis, drawn from a Shi'ite minority that ruled a thousand-year kingdom in Yemen until 1962, deny they are Iranian pawns.
The coalition says one of the main justifications for its intervention is to protect Red Sea shipping, which brings Middle East oil and Asian goods to Europe through the Suez Canal.
The UAE's Gargash said plans were in place to keep the port operational and urged the global community to pressure the Houthis to evacuate and leave the port intact, without planting mines.
UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem al-Hashimy said if the port was no longer under Houthi control then the coalition could ease controls aimed at denying arms to the group by doing away with inspections at the Saudi port of Jizan.
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