SANAA, Yemen — Saudi-led forces fought to retake the international airport of Yemen’s rebel-held port city of Hodeida from the Shiite Houthi rebels, Yemeni officials and witnesses said Saturday, as combat intensified for the starving nation’s main gateway for food shipments.

With battles raging at the southern side of al-Hodeida International Airport, the military of Yemen’s exiled government said it had entirely seized the facility, and that engineers were working to clear mines from nearby areas just south of the city of some 600,000 people on the Red Sea.

“The armed forces which are supported by the Arab coalition have freed the al-Hodeida International Airport from the Houthi militias and the engineering teams have started to clean the airport and its surroundings from mines and bombs,” the military said on its official Twitter account.

Other government officials and witnesses later said coalition forces had not yet fully taken control of the airport.

Sadek Dawad, spokesman of the Republican Guards force loyal to the Saudis, said government forces had battled onto the airport grounds.

Dawad also said the southern gate of Hodeida city was captured by pro-coalition forces.

“The military operations to liberate the city of Hodeida will not be stopped until we secure the city and its strategic port and that won’t last too long,” he said.

Yemen’s Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who hold the country’s capital of Sanaa, did not immediately acknowledge losing the airport.

The Houthi-run Al Masirah satellite news channel aired footage it described as being from near Hodeida showing a burned-out truck, corpses of irregular fighters and a damaged Emirati armored vehicle. The Iranian-aligned fighters rifled through a military ledger from the vehicle before chanting their slogan: “Death to America, death to Israel, damn the Jews, victory to Islam!”

Yemeni officials and witnesses said forces from the United Arab Emirates-backed Amaleqa brigades, supported by air cover from the Saudi-led coalition, were heading to eastern Hodeida province to try to cut off the main road that links it with the capital.

The officials said if government forces capture the Kilo 16 Road they will trap the rebels in Hodeida and the western coast and prevent them from receiving supplies from the capital. The rebels are then expected to have no choice but to head to the northern province of Hajjah.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said humanitarian agencies cannot reach the southern part of Hodeida as fighting escalated. It said that heavy airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition have moved confrontation lines deeper to the south.

United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths, meanwhile, arrived in Sanaa in an effort to broker a cease-fire.

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