Cairo: Dozens of Al Houthi fighters and allied Iranian advisers have been killed this week by the Yemeni government forces in a stronghold of the militiamen, a military source said on Tuesday.

Around 400 Al Houthis had been killed or injured during battles in the mountainous district of Maran in the northern province of Saada over the past two days, the source told news portal September Net linked to the Yemeni Defence Ministry.

Last month, the government forces, backed by an Arab coalition, unleashed an operation dubbed “Cutting the Snake’s Head” in Saada near the border with Saudi Arabia.

Government loyalists have since recaptured territory in Maran, where the leader of the Iran-allied militia Abdul Malek Al Houthi is believed to be hiding.

Al Houthi militias have launched five attacks in the past two days in a desperate attempt to regain their lost positions, but have been pushed back, the source told September Net.

Al Houthi fatalities in the fight included Ali Mohammad Shaikh, the chief of the so-called Maran Battalion.

A number of Iranian military advisers, and militiamen from Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group were also killed and their bodies transported to a local hospital.

Maran in the south-west part of Saada is symbolically important for Al Houthis. Abdul Malek’s brother, Hussain, was killed by the Yemeni army in a Maran cave in 2004.

Al Houthis have repeatedly used Saada as the launch pad for firing missiles into Saudi Arabia, which is leading the Arab coalition fighting the Iran-aligned extremists.

The military escalation comes in the run-up to UN-brokered talks due to open in Geneva on Thursday. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said in a tweet that “Yemen’s suffering following Al Houthi coup can only end through a UN-led political process. The UAE, as part of Arab Coalition, welcomes peace talks which start in Geneva on Thursday. We urge all Yemeni parties to engage constructively with the UN process.”

He further tweeted: “UN envoy Martin Griffiths deserves special praise. His enthusiasm & drive made these talks possible. Coalition’s use of legitimate military force always intended to support political solution & UNSCR 2216. Long way to go. But Geneva can bring outcome nearer.”

Yemeni Foreign Minister Khalid Al Yamani, who will head the government team to the indirect talks, said they would focus on confidence-building measures.

“The government delegation is ready to go farther than Geneva to ease the Yemenis, especially in areas under control of Al Houthi militia,” Al Yamani told Saudi newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

“If Al Houthis take a step in the direction of confidence building, there will be a hope for continuing consultation and negotiating for fulfilling peace as well as ending the coup and Iran’s interference in the Yemeni affairs,” he added.