The battle for Yemen's key port of Hodeida

Map of Yemen locating the port of Hodeida, which governmental forces are trying to retake from Huthi rebels (AFP Photo/) (AFP)

Sanaa (AFP) - Emirati-backed Yemeni government forces seized Hodeida airport on Wednesday in a major step towards retaking the rebel-held port city after a week of fighting that has left nearly 350 people dead.

The offensive to retake Hodeida from rebel fighters who have held it since 2014 has raised UN concerns for vital aid shipments and food imports through the city's docks.

Here is a timeline of the battle:

- Yemen forces launch offensive -

The offensive is launched on June 13 after government forces -- who have been advancing on the port for months -- receive a green light from the Saudi-led coalition that provides essential air and ground support.

The coalition carries out more than a dozen air strikes on Huthi positions on the outskirts of Hodeida; 22 rebels are killed while three pro-government fighters die in an ambush, medical sources say.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths, leading talks to ensure the continued functioning of the vital port, urges all sides to "exercise restraint and to give peace a chance."

Britain requests a UN Security Council meeting and Russia warns of "catastrophic consequences" for the entire aid-dependent country.

- Heavy clashes -

There is intense fighting on the second day of the offensive, with Saudi-led coalition warplanes and Apache helicopters providing "continuous" air support, although the government advance is hampered by sniper fire and mines.

Medical sources tell AFP that 30 rebels and nine pro-government troops are killed in fighting near Hodeida's defunct airport, which serves as a rebel base.

The UAE announces that four of its troops died on the first day of the offensive, when Huthis said they had struck a coalition ship with two missiles.

Sweden calls for the UN Security Council to demand "an immediate freeze" to the assault to allow time for talks on a rebel withdrawal and avert a humanitarian disaster.

But UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash insists "it is clear that for the UN-led political process to succeed, the situation on the ground must change".

- Rebel leader defiant -

After meeting behind closed doors, the UN Security Council does not demand a halt in the offensive but says the port must remain open.

Saudi ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi warns that the Huthi rebels could "blow up part of the port" during a retreat. The Huthis will be given safe passage to the north if they withdraw from the city, the UAE ambassador says.

But rebel chief Abdulmalik Al-Huthi urges his men to fight on, promising reinforcements.

On June 15, government forces come under attack on the coast road south of Hodeida, leaving around 12 dead and disrupting a vital supply line.

- UN envoy leaves empty-handed -

The UN envoy holds four days of talks in the rebel-held capital Sanaa in a bid to avert an all-out battle for the city but flies out on Tuesday without announcing any breakthrough.

The Yemeni government and its allies have insisted that the Huthis must fully withdraw from Hodeida and turn over the port to UN supervision.

The rebels agree only to share control of the port with the United Nations.

- Government forces seize airport -

On Tuesday, government forces break through the perimeter fence of the disused airport sparking heavy fighting with its rebel garrison.

At least 156 rebels and 28 soldiers are killed in the fight for the airport, according to Hodeida hospital sources, raising the death toll in the week-old battle for the city to 348.