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Yemen government forces advance into rebel heartland

Engineers are defusing landmines to open way for troops to move towards Al Houthi positions

Gulf News

Al Mukalla: Army troops and allied tribesmen loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi battled Al Houthis inside their stronghold in the north of the country as other forces were clearing mines laid by the fleeing rebels.

The governor of Saada, Hadi Tarshan, told Gulf News on Thursday the government forces secured their positions on the border with Saudi Arabia and made a “slow” headway towards Ketaf, the largest district in Saada.

“The large number of landmines planted by Al Houthis slowed down our advance. Engineers are defusing the landmines to open the way for forces to move towards Al Houthis’ positions,” Tarshan said.

For the first time since their rapid military surge three years ago, Al Houthis lost control of a strategic border crossing with Saudi Arabia inside their main bastion in Yemen on Wednesday.

Led by a prominent Salafist figure, Hashem Al Sayed, the government forces thrust into Saada province on Tuesday night from the Saudi side of the border, taking control of Al Buqa border crossing and some locations inside Saada. The governor said that one of his fighters was killed and several others injured in the offensive.

“We are getting closer to Al Buqa airport. We are now 50km from Ketaf centre and 150km from the province’s capital [Saada].”

The governor said his forces seized armed vehicles from the defeated rebel forces, adding that the recent major territorial gain in Saada bolstered government fighters’ morale.

Outside the Al Houthi-held capital Sana’a, official media said on Thursday morning the government forces engaged in heavy clashes with Al Houthis and their allied force loyal to the ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh on hilly terrain of Nehim district.

The National Army’s Facebook page said that several Al Houthis were killed or arrested in the clashes in Nehim. The page also posted a video showing a number of bodies left behind after the fighting.

In the southern city of Taiz, two Al Houthis were killed and several others injured on Wednesday in clashes with the government forces in the western suburbs of the city as the rebel forces pushed to recapture locations they lost last month. Local officials say at least seven loyalists were injured in the fighting. Despite Al Houthis’ intensive shelling, government forces pushed back many attacks by the rebel forces and partially broke the siege on the city.

Similarly, army commanders said the Saudi-led coalition warplanes carried out dozens of air raids on Al Houthi military sites in Saada, Jawf, Taiz and Mareb.