Cairo: Yemeni government forces have shelled pockets of Al Houthis near Hodeida amid an increasing military build-up aimed to expel the Iran-aligned militia from the Red Sea city, military sources said Wednesday.

Republican Guards shelled and blew up an arms depot belonging to Al Houthis on the outskirts of the district of Tahita, retaken from the extremists in July, the military media centre said, according to news portal Barakish Net.

The shelling came after a close monitoring of fleeing Al Houthis in the area located south east of Hodeida.

Sounds of explosions were heard and flames of fire were seen arising from the site for more than two hours, indicating that the depot had contained large amounts of weaponry, according to the report. An unspecified number of militiamen were killed while they were trying to escape.

Helicopters of an Arab Saudi-led coalition, fighting Al Houthis in Yemen, took part in hunting the fleeing militiamen and unleashed precise strikes against them, the centre added.

Hodeida in western Yemen is strategically important because it has a harbour, which is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, as most of the commercial imports and relief supplies enter through it to the country.

The coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, accuses Al Houthis of taking advantage of their control of Hodeida port to obtain weapons from their Iranian patrons as well as confiscate aid intended for Yemenis in order to sustain their war efforts.

The government loyalists are fighting Al Houthis on the eastern and southern outskirts of Hodeida in preparation for storming the city and liberating it and its vital harbour from the rebels.

The capital Sana’a, under Al Houthi militants’ control since late 2014, is also a major focus of the coalition-supported government forces’ campaign.

Yemeni army forces have retaken control of strategic hilltops on the edges of Sana’a, field sources said on Wednesday.

The progress in the district of Nahm east of Sana’a was made on Tuesday following a massive attack mounted by government forces on Al Houthi gatherings in the area, the sources told September Net, a news portal linked to the Defence Ministry.

Dozens of the militiamen were killed or injured in the attack.

Al Houthis plunged Yemen into unrest in September 2014 when they deposed the internationally recognised government and overran Sana’a. In March 2015, the Arab Coalition intervened in Yemen at a request from the government against Al Houthis after the militants advanced on the southern city of Aden, the temporary capital of the country after their takeover of Sana’a.