The EU on Monday called for all sides in the Yemen conflict to stop the escalation of violence and ensure the port of Hodeida stays open for vital humanitarian supplies.
Yemeni government forces have been waging an offensive to retake Hodeida -- the entry point of three quarters of the country's imports -- from the Shiite Huthi rebels, prompting thousands to flee amid fears of a bloody final showdown.
"The EU calls on all parties to cease the present escalation, exercise restraint, work urgently towards a nationwide ceasefire and engage constructively with the UN," the EU said in a statement after a meeting of all 28 foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
The bloc called for "unimpeded humanitarian access and safe passage for those who want to escape the fighting", saying more than 22 million people -- 80 percent of the population -- were in need of protection or support.
"In this context, the EU recalls that there is currently no viable alternative to the port of Hodeidah as a distribution hub for the commercial and humanitarian items needed and calls on all the parties to ensure the full and effective functioning of the Hodeidah port as the lifeline for humanitarian support and commercial access point for essential supplies," the statement said.
EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said ceding control of Hodeida port to the United Nations could be a "viable option" and warned it was important to try to avoid street battles in the city, which she said would cause "major humanitarian losses".