YEMEN could be thrown into outright famine as a battle rages for control of the country’s most important port.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), with American backing, has resumed an all-out offensive aimed at capturing Hodeida, where Shiite rebels are digging in to fight.

Thousands of civilians are caught in the middle, trapped by minefields and barrages of mortars and air strikes.

If the array of Yemeni militias backed by the UAE take the city, it would be their biggest victory against the rebels, known as Houthis, after a long stalemate in the three-year-old civil war.

But the battle on the Red Sea coast also threatens to throw Yemen into outright famine.

Hodeida’s port, the entry point for 70% of food imports and international aid, keeps millions of starving Yemenis alive.

More than eight million of Yemen’s nearly 29 million people have no food other than what is provided by world relief agencies, a figure that continues to rapidly rise.

A protracted siege could cut off that lifeline.

The battle has already killed hundreds of civilians and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, adding to the more than two million Yemenis displaced by the war.

Amid the fighting, cholera cases in the area jumped from 497 in June to 1347 in August, Save the Children said.

The assault first began in June, then paused in August as the UN envoy for Yemen tried to cobble together peace talks, the first in two years.

That attempt fell apart and the offensive resumed in mid-September.

The US effectively gave a green light to push ahead when secretary of state Mike Pompeo on September 12 certified continued American support for the Saudi-led coalition’s air campaign against the Houthis.

The coalition has come under heavy criticism for its relentless air strikes since 2015, which UN experts say have caused the majority of the estimated 10,000 civilian deaths in the conflict and could constitute a war crime. Several strikes in August killed dozens of children.

Pompeo declared that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were taking adequate measures to minimise civilian deaths.

The US supports the coalition with intelligence and air-to-air refuelling for its warplanes, as well as with billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as the US, say their campaign aims to restore the recognised government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and thwart what they contend is an attempt by Iran to seize control in Yemen through the rebels. Iran denies that the Houthis are its proxy.

But the resulting war has pushed Yemen into the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, fragmentation and chaos.

A coalition victory at Hodeida would be the first breakthrough after more than two years of deadlock.

After the Houthis took over the capital Sanaa and surged south in early 2015, the coalition launched its campaign, pushing them back. Since then, front lines have hardly moved, with the Houthis firmly in control of the north.

The notable exception has been on the Red Sea coast, where since December UAE-backed forces have battled their way towards Hodeida.

The UAE says taking the port will force the Houthis to the negotiating table.

Hodeida’s fall would cost the rebels a major source of income, since they heavily tax commodities and aid coming from the port. That cash has helped them finance their fight and the iron fist they wield in their territory.