SANA, Yemen — The UN spokesman said on Monday that tens of thousands of residents have fled the fighting along Yemen’s western coastline, where Yemeni fighters backed by a Saudi-led coalition are engaged in fierce battles with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN secretary-general, told reporters on Monday that about 5,200 families, or around 26,000 people, have fled the fighting and sought safety within their own districts or in other areas in Hodeida governorate.
‘‘The number is expected to increase as hostilities continue,’’ he said.
Emirati troops, along with irregular and loyalist forces in Yemen, have been fighting against Houthis for Hodeida since Wednesday.
Coalition warplanes rained missiles and bombs on Houthi positions near Hodeida airport, in the city’s south.
The offensive for Hodeida has faced criticism from international aid groups, who fear a protracted fight could force a shutdown of the city’s port and potentially tip millions into starvation.
About 70 percent of Yemen’s food enters via the port, as well as the bulk of humanitarian aid and fuel supplies. Around two-thirds of the country’s population of 27 million relies on aid, and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.
Dujarric also said that UN special envoy in Yemen Martin Griffiths will be giving a briefing to the Security Council from Sanaa. Griffiths arrived Saturday and aims at avoiding an all-out-assault in Hodeida.