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Siege fears rise in Hodeida as Yemen war hits streets

media Yemeni pro-government forces gather on the eastern outskirts of Hodeida, as they continue to battle for the control of the city from Huthi rebels on November 9, 2018 AFP

In the heart of Yemen's port city of Hodeida, caught in a war of attrition between rebels and a regional military alliance, Mohammed fears his family will be trapped -- but he cannot bring himself to leave.

Father to an 11-month-old daughter, Mohammed lives in the Dahmiya district, just three kilometres (1.8 miles) from the frontline between Yemen's Huthi rebels and pro-government troops.

"I lost my job because of the war," said the 30-year-old, who was a pharmaceutical representative until a few weeks ago when armed clashes brought his city to a standstill.

"What I'm most afraid of is that the war will drag on, and that we'll somehow be trapped here, and that we'll have a hard time finding water, food, medicine," he said.

"But I'm not even considering leaving. I'll wait for this to be over, and then I'll find a job again."

A city on western Yemen's Red Sea coast, Hodeida is home to its most important port, a lifeline to 14 million people -- half the population -- who risk starvation in the war-torn and impoverished country.

The port has been under Huthi rebel control since 2014, when the armed northern tribes staged a takeover of large parts of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have fought alongside the Yemeni army against the Iran-aligned Huthis since 2015, expelling them from a string of Red Sea ports but failing to retake Hodeida and Sanaa.

- 'When will the war end?' -

The people of Hodeida do not like to talk politics, at least with journalists -- no declarations of allegiance, resistance or readiness to fight.

"The only thing we talk about is when this war will end and how," said Lubna, who lives in southern Hodeida.

She is terrified, she says, by talk of an all-out attack on the port, or on the only remaining road in or out of the city, to the north.

"We're afraid of food shortages. We're afraid of a humanitarian disaster."

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned that the destruction of Hodeida port would be "catastrophic" for Yemen.

Some aid shipments are allowed into the docks of Hodeida, after prior inspection by the Saudi-led alliance, and then face a long and uncertain journey to other parts of Yemen.

The docks came under attack on Monday night but, according to the port's deputy director Yahya Sharafeddine, were still operational.

Across Hodeida, residents say the rebels have barricaded roads with containers or large concrete blocks, lining them with sandbags and mounds of dirt.

Snipers are now stationed on rooftops across the city and in some neighbourhoods, fighters are stationed in makeshift trenches.

When Saudi Arabia and its allies first launched an offensive to retake Hodeida, five months ago, thousands fled the densely populated city, once home to some 600,000 people.

When a temporary ceasefire was announced in August, some returned. Many now regret it.

"This time we are really scared. The fighting this time is worse than all the other times," said Najwa, who lives in western Hodeida with her mother and brothers.

"We are close to the port, which will sooner or later be a target. We're scared. We're scared to go out into the streets."

"I don't want to leave again," said Hanaa, 36, another Hodeida resident. "I don't want to go back to a city where we have nothing. Neither do my children."

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