ADEN, Yemen, June 19 (Xinhua) -- A wide-scale military operation supported by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was launched Tuesday to kick Houthi rebels out of Hodeidah's airport in western Yemen, a military official told Xinhua.
The forces began an assault aimed at reclaiming both the civilian and military buildings in Hodeidah's airport, the military source said on condition of anonymity.
UAE helicopters heavily participated in the operation and supported the Yemeni ground troops to advance further inside the large area of the airport, the military source said.
The Houthi rebels showed stiff resistance and retaliated with heavy mortar shelling, tank and gunfire exchanges with the Yemeni troops.
An anti-Houthi army commander told Xinhua by phone that "Houthis were granted a chance to withdraw from the airport and other areas without fighting but they refused and the deadline ended hours ago."
After days of stagnant, residents told Xinhua that "huge explosions rocked the city and fighting intensified everywhere in Hodeidah."
Black smoke plumes could be seen rising from the Hodeidah International Airport following the airstrikes, residents said.
International humanitarian agencies have warned that an assault on Hodeidah would be a major disaster to the densely populated port city and would block aid supplies to more than 20 million people.
Hodeidah is the only lifeline route of supplying imports and humanitarian aid to the northern Yemeni provinces.
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015. The war has killed over 10,000 people, mostly civilians, and forced 3 million others out of their homes.