Armed men ride on the back of a truck to attend a rally held by supporters of Houthi rebels and Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to celebrate an agreement reached by Saleh and the Houthis to form a political council to unilaterally rule the country, in Sanaa, Yemen. Image Credit: REUTERS

Al Mukalla: Government forces in Yemen’s province of Shabwa have foiled an offensive by Al Houthis and their allies to recapture strategic locations, officials and residents said on Tuesday.

Al Houthi fighters attacked on Sunday morning government forces locations in Ousylan district, prompting heavy battles that continued till Tuesday. A local government official close to the governor of Shabwa told Gulf News on Tuesday that Al Houthis pulled out after losing 30 fighters.

“The national army and resistance fighters pushed them back and killed dozens of their fighters,” the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised by his seniors to brief reporters.

Backed by heavy air support from the Saudi-led coalition, government forces, including army soldiers and local tribesmen, recaptured three cities in Shabwa and Marib in March after a military operation. Those forces were trained and armed with modern arms by the coalition officers in Marib. The official said that at least 12 government forces were killed in the clashes on Sunday and Monday, adding that Al Houthis’ latest attack on Ousylan was aimed at circling army and the Arab coalition troops in the neighbouring Marib province. “They want to make trouble to the forces based in Marib by shelling them from Shabwa.” the official said.

Since the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition’s military operation in Yemen in March last year, the city of Marib has been turned into a large military camp where thousands of government forces regrouped, trained and deployed to frontlines in northern Yemen.

In the city of Taiz that has seen the worst battles between government forces and Al Houthis, at least four Al Houthi fighters were killed on Monday in heavy clashes on outskirts, residents and local activists said.

Residents said the rebel forces bombarded residential areas in the city using Katyusha rockets and anti-aircraft machine guns. “For the 11th day, Al Houthis and Saleh’s militants have intensified their blockade on the city preventing people from entering or leaving the city.” Zakaria Al Shara’bi, a local journalist said.

Al Houthi rebels have imposed a siege on the city of Taiz, Yemen’s third largest city, since early last year to force local fighters to surrender. Local and international groups have criticised the rebel movement for starving the densely populated city by confiscating vehicles that carry vital food and medical supplies. The rebels used to allow people to cross into the city, but not before confiscating their belongings.