Yemen army closes in on key port town

Al Houthis virtually on their last legs as government forces retake most areas on the outskirts of Mocha

Gulf News

Al Mukalla: Yemen government forces and allied resistance fighters on Sunday retook control of most areas on the outskirts of Mocha, a key Red Sea port town that is under Al Houthi militant control.

The Iran-backed rebels have received weapons shipments from Iran through this port and liberating it will deliver a major blow to the militants.

Yemeni forces are currently battling the rebels on the edges of the strategic town, army commanders and government officials said.

Al Houthis have suffered heavy setbacks along the country’s western coast since January when the government forces gained control of major regions on the Red Sea, denying the rebel movement from using these areas for smuggling arms into the country.

Yemen army spokesperson, Abdo Majili, told Gulf News on Sunday that government forces stormed a small area called Abu Razeq before advancing further towards Mocha.

“Government forces have cautiously targeted Al Houthi military sites in the town to avoid hitting civilians. This is an inhabitant area and the civilians would be harmed if we bombarded it heavily.”

Mocha has long been famous for its seaport where the country’s internationally-renowned coffee is shipped from.

The government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has accused the rebels of using the seaport to ship in their Iran-sourced weapons.

Army commanders expect tough battles inside the town as rebels have infiltrated residential areas, making it harder to easily target them.

For more than two weeks, government forces along with a number of military advisers from the Saudi-led Arab coalition have battled Al Houthis and renegade army units loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

To slow the government forces’ advances, retreating Al Houthi militants have left behind thousands of landmines, army commanders told Gulf News on Saturday.

The militants have endured heavy losses since Operation Golden Arrow was launched two weeks ago, aimed at liberating the entire Taiz province and cutting off Al Houthis’ arms supplies.

Even as the rebels are virtually on their last legs, Al Houthi media claimed that the leader of the militia’s political council, Saleh Al Samad, had recently met with tribal leaders in Mocha securing a pledge from them to help them fight against government forces.

Meanwhile, UN special envoy to Yemen, Esmail Ould Shaikh Ahmad, arrived in the Yemeni capital on Sunday to push for a new round of peace talks between the internationally-recognised government and the rebels.

Ould Shaikh Ahmad is expected to meet with senior leaders in the Al Houthi dispensation as well as Saleh’s party. Last week, he briefly visited the port city of Aden where he suggested a new roadmap to Hadi and his government.

Under the new plan, Hadi would retain his powers as president until Al Houthis fully withdraw from occupied territory and disarm.

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