Houthi fighters watch from the roof of a building.
Houthi fighters battled Saudi-led forces in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah yesterday and posted gunmen on the roof of a hospital, leaving doctors and young patients in the line of fire, rights groups and military sources said.

The Houthis raided the May 22 hospital in the city’s eastern suburbs, sources said, as clashes raged on in the face of mounting calls from world powers, including some of Saudi Arabia’s main Western allies, for a ceasefire.

“This is a stomach-churning development that could have devastating consequences for the hospital’s medical workers and dozens of civilian patients, including many children,” said Amnesty’s International’s Middle East director of campaigns Samah Hadid. Fighting was getting closer to the hospital and had disrupted services there, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

A Saudi-led coalition has been battling to push Iran-allied Houthis out of the city they have held since 2014. A surge of fighting in the past week has trapped thousands of civilians in the crossfire and coalition air raids.

UN bodies and other powers have warned that an all-out attack on the city, an entry point for 80% of Yemen’s food imports and aid relief, could trigger a famine in the impoverished state.

The latest fighting has focused on Hodeidah’s eastern neighbourhoods and around a university just 4km from the port and a few blocks from al-Thawra hospital, the main medical facility on Yemen’s western coast.

Saudi Arabia is leading a Western-backed alliance of Sunni Muslim Arab states to try to restore Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his internationally recognised government that was ousted from the capital Sana'a by the Houthis in 2015.

As fighting mounted, Hadi appointed a new defence minister, Mohammed al-Maqdishi, and named Abdullah Al-Nakhi as chief of staff, state news agency SABA reported.

Maqdishi had been chief of staff and the facto defence minister for more than a year, and the official title would give him more authority.

Yemen’s ousted government has fled further south down the coast in Aden, but Hadi and other cabinet members are based in Riyadh. The Houthis say they are defending their homeland from foreign invaders and accuse the Yemeni government of decades of marginalisation. The UN said in August 2016 that according to medical centres at least 10000 people had been killed by then.

Pressure has mounted on Saudi Arabia since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month to end the war that has already created one of the world’s worse humanitarian crises.

Amnesty said it had documented a series of air strikes carried out by Saudi Arabia and the UAE-led coalition in the lead-up to the recent escalation in fighting, including two that killed 11 and 21 civilians last month. Reuters