MORE than 600 people have been killed amid heavy fighting between pro-government forces and Shia rebels in western Yemen, officials said.

Government forces, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, have been advancing along the western coast in recent weeks as they battle the rebels, known as Houthis.

The fighting has escalated as government forces close in on the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, a vital lifeline through which most of the Yemeni population’s food and medicine enters.

The coalition has been battling the Iranian-allied rebels since March 2015, in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people. It aims to restore the government of self-exiled president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

More than three million people have been displaced during the conflict. It has damaged Yemen’s infrastructure, crippled its health system and pushed the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.

The UN considers Yemen to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22.2 million people in need of assistance.