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Yemen 'worst humanitarian crisis in the world': EU

European Union condemns attacks on civilians after dozens killed and calls on combatants to commit to negotiations.

Yemen has become the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world", the European Union said, demanding the protection of civilians who continue to die in the three-year-old conflict.

An EU statement on Saturday highlighted the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, which recently witnessed a bloody assault that killed at least 55 people and was blamed on air strikes by the Saudi-Emirati coalition fighting there. An alliance spokesman denied responsibility for the carnage.  

"The consecutive air strikes in the city of Hodeidah have once again claimed dozens of lives with many people injured," the EU statement said.

"This is a tragic reminder that in Yemen the international humanitarian law - in place to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in times of war - continues to be broken on a daily basis." 

Yemeni government forces - backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - launched a major operation to retake Hodeidah and its strategic seaport from Houthi rebels in June.

Hodeidah has been under the control of the Houthis since 2014, and was responsible for delivering 70 percent of Yemen's imports - mostly humanitarian aid, food and fuel.

The Saudi-UAE alliance accuses the Houthis of smuggling weapons through Hodeidah's port.

22 million in need

More than 121,000 people have fled the city since the start of the offensive, according to a United Nations report.

The EU condemned the bombing of densely populated areas and the destruction of "schools, medical facilities, residential areas, markets, water systems, ports and airports".

Impoverished Yemen has been wracked by violence since 2014 when the Houthis overran much of the country, including the capital Sanaa.

With logistical support from the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have carried out attacks inside Yemen since March 2015 in an attempt to reinstate the internationally recognised government of President Abu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The coalition has repeatedly accused regional rival Iran of arming the rebels, allegations the Houthis and Iran deny.

At least 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting and more than 22 million are in dire need of assistance.

'Genuinely commit'

The UN had been trying to broker a deal in a bid to avert an all-out assault on the city, which it fears would further hinder Yemenis' access to food, fuel and medicine, worsening the crisis.

On Thursday, the UN's special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said he plans to invite the country's warring factions to hold talks in the Swiss city of Geneva on September 6.

Griffiths said he hopes the meeting will allow the government and Houthi rebels to discuss "the framework for negotiations, to agree on relevant confidence-building measures and specific plans for moving the process forward".

The EU urged the combatants to "genuinely commit to the current UN diplomatic agreement".

"The only solution that can put an end to the extreme suffering of the Yemeni people is a negotiated political solution," it said. 

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