A Yemeni tribesmen from the Popular Resistance Committee places a mortar shell into a rocket launcher in Taiz during clashes with Al Houthi rebels on Tuesday. Image Credit: AFP

Al Mukalla: Fierce clashes erupted on Wednesday in the city of Taiz, Southern Yemen, between the government forces and Al Houthi-backed army units loyal to the ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, local field commanders said.

At least 28 Al Houthis and six government loyalists were killed in the clashes as the rebel forces mount fresh attacks to control new territories in the densely populated city. Abd Hamoud, the commander of pro-government tribesmen, told Gulf News that Al Houthis and the ousted president’s forces attempted to breach the government’s defensive lines from different parts of the city. “They have sent a big number of forces and equipment to the city’s outskirt[s] and are trying to storm the city’s downtown from the eastern and western sides of the city,” he said.

Al Houthis, who have firmly controlled the city’s outskirts for more than a year, could not advance into the city’s centre despite heavy shelling and siege.

Hamoud said that his forces recently took control of some strategic locations in the city and fought their way into the eastern side of the city in an attempt to break Al Houthis’ siege from the east. “We have pushed Al Houthis out of some hills. We are trying to take control of hilly locations that overlook Taiz Al Rahida road that links the city with Aden,” he said.

Hamoud said government forces are pushing to take control of Al Salo region to secure Rahida and Karash from an Al Houthi attack.

In August, government forces scored a major victory against Al Houthis by taking control of a vital checkpoint in the western suburbs of the city and officially declared partial end of Al Houthis siege that drove the city close to famine. Hamoud said that fighter jets from the Saudi-led coalition paved the way for their advances by destroying Al Houthi arms.

Also in Taiz, local media said that the coalition’s jets heavily struck the Red Sea town of Mokha on Tuesday and Wednesday. Residents told Al Masdar Online, an independent news site, that warplanes hit Al Houthi military sites in the strategic town. Observers here believe that the coalition’s intensive air strikes on Al Houthi defences in the Red Sea cities is apparently paving the way for imminent ground offensive.

Politically, pressure has mounted on President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi to accept the latest United Nations peace plan that suggests he take a figurehead role in exchange for Al Houthis’ withdrawal from main cities and handing over arms to a third party.