THE fiercest battle yet in the three-year war in Yemen threatens to bring further hunger and misery to the millions of people already facing severe food shortages there.

The Saudi-backed coalition has begun a major strike on the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, seeking to drive the Houthi rebels back into their stronghold of Sanaa.

Hodeidah is the main port for Yemen, and the landing point for 80 per cent of its supplies.

The raging battle, which has seen the coalition launch a series of air strikes and bombardments, has sparked fear from aid agencies that hundreds of thousands of civilians will be killed, injured or starved.

Save the Children estimates 300,000 children are at risk of injury or death from the fighting.

The charity’s Yemen country director Tamer Kirolos said families and children were stuck in the city and beyond the reach of humanitarian assistance.

“Families and children could be caught in the crossfire, unable to leave but in grave danger from bombs and bullets if they stay,’’ he said.

“Save the Children is now extremely concerned that the port in Hodeidah will be closed and despite repeated warnings of the devastating impact this will have, a famine is becoming a real possibility, with hundreds of thousands of lives at risk.’’

One of the world’s greatest humanitarian disasters is unfolding in the largely-forgotten conflict in Yemen, where seven million people are now facing famine conditions.

At least 10,000 people have been killed by the fighting but the real toll is many times higher, with disease and malnutrition sweeping the impoverished country.

The war broke out in 2015 when the Iran-backed Houthis challenged the Yemeni government, promoting reprisals from a coalition of Arab states, primarily Saudi Arabia, with tacit support from the west.

“The battle for Hodeidah will almost certainly result in a huge loss of civilian life and damage to vital infrastructure,’’ Mr Kirolos said.

“Save the Children has consistently called for a diplomatic rather than military solution to this brutal conflict, now in its fourth year, and we feel despair for the children of Hodeidah who didn’t ask for this war.’’