Battles intensify near strategic Yemeni port

Yemeni officials say a flare-up in violence near a strategic port in Yemen killed at least 18 fighters over the past day

SANAA, Yemen -- A flare-up in violence near a strategic port in Yemen left at least 18 fighters dead over the past day, rebel officials said Thursday.

Fighting escalated overnight in the flash point town of Durayhimi, just south of the Hodeida port, between Houthi rebels and Yemeni government forces.

The Yemeni army fired missiles and shot down a Houthi drone, according to military officials with the interim government in Aden who spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations.

One woman was killed as government shelling struck a residential neighborhood, according to Houthi-run al-Masirah satellite TV.

The clashes threatened a shaky U.N.-brokered truce around the main port of Hodeida, which handles about 70% of Yemen’s commercial and humanitarian imports.

U.N. officials have repeatedly warned that military escalations around the port could disrupt the lifeline of humanitarian assistance to millions of civilians in need.

Houthi security officials said their fighters halted a major government assault on the rebel-held Durayhimi, killing dozens of troops that advanced toward the city center.

A wave of bombing damaged dozens of homes. As night fell Thursday, quiet returned to the front, as both sides regrouped in anticipation of more fighting.

Intensifying battles in the Marib, Jawf and Sanaa governorates, which had been mostly quiet for the last two years, also continued unabated Thursday, casting uncertainty over the fate of ongoing back-channel political negotiations between the sides.

Yemen's conflict began with the 2014 takeover of the capital by the Houthis, who control much of the country's north. A Saudi-led coalition launched a bombing campaign months later, determined to restore the government and oust the rebels.

The grinding regional proxy war has killed thousands of civilians and created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine last year.