Fighters loyal to the internationally-recognised government hold a hilltop position northwest of the central city of Taiz. Five civilians were injured yesterday when a shell fired by Al Houthi fighters exploded outside a school in Taiz, residents said. Image Credit: AFP

Al Mukalla: The Saudi-led coalition and the internationally-recognised government of Yemen have collectively appealed to residents of the western Hodeida city to support government forces as the countdown has begun for a long-awaited offensive to push Al Houthi militia from the important Red Sea city.

Residents said on Wednesday fighter jets from the coalition dropped thousands of leaflets alerting them about the impending offensive and urging them to join government forces when they arrive in the city.

“Our legitimate forces are moving to liberate Hodeida to put an end to the suffering of the honourable Yemeni people,” one of leaflets read.

Another leaflet told residents that Al Houthis were hijacking humanitarian aid that came through the city’s seaport which exacerbated famine in the province of Hodeida and other areas in Yemen.

Yemen’s government and the coalition have been trying to pressure the rebels to pull out of the city or face a major military operation.

Military experts believe the Hodeida battle would be tough and protracted as Al Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have amassed in the city.

Military experts believe that the coalition’s modern weaponry will help tilt the battle in Hodeida in favour of government forces.

Meanwhile on the ground, fighting raged on Wednesday between government forces and rebels in the southern province of Taiz where loyalists pushed to take complete control of a major military base close to the Red Sea town of Mokha.

Residents in Taiz, the third largest city in Yemen, said on Wednesday that as many as five civilians were injured when a shell fired by Al Houthi fighters exploded outside a school in Masbah neighbourhood.

Rebel forces who are stationed on the city’s eastern, southern and northern suburbs usually resort to heavily shelling the densely-populated city centre to force government forces to surrender.

This tactic has killed and maimed thousands of civilians and pushed thousands of others to flee to safer areas.

Residents also said fighting broke out on Wednesday on Al Oued mountain in Taiz when the rebels staged an assault on government forces.

In northern Yemen, the commander of the 5th Military Region, Brigadier General Omar Sajaf said that government forces pushed Al Houthis from eastern and northern parts of Medi city and reached the edges of Hayran city in Medi district.

The Ministry of Defence’s official website quoted Sajaf as saying that his forces are surrounding the rebel forces in other parts of Medi.