Al Mukalla: Thousands of Republican Guard forces who deserted the Iran-backed Al Houthis have launched a massive offensive against their former allies in Yemen’s Hodeida and Taiz provinces.

Led by Brigadier General Tarek Mohammad Abdullah Saleh, the nephew of Yemen’s ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the forces who regrouped in government-controlled areas pushed into mountainous areas north and east of government-controlled Mokha town in the province of Taiz.

Media outlets controlled by Saleh’s supporters said the forces seized control of several mountainous locations that overlook Khalid Bin Waleed military camp in Taiz are now engaging in fierce clashes with Al Houthis in new areas.

On Thursday, photos posted by Saleh’s supporters showed soldiers in modern-armed vehicles driving along the rough roads in Taiz.

The younger Saleh appeared in a video describing the battlefield to a group of officers in what appeared to be a command room.

Thousands of soldiers loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh have defected from Al Houthis after they ruthlessly assassinated him on December 4 after he appeared to have switched sides in the conflict.

Tarek’s forces are moving to drive Al Houthis out from a chain of mountains that overlook government-controlled coastal areas.

Al Houthis use the mountains to indisriminately shell government-held areas along the coast.

Saudi-led coalition spokesperson Colonel Turki Al Maliki said Yemeni troops backed by the coalition launched their offensive on Al Houthi-held areas, east of government areas in Hodeida and Taiz province to protect advancing government forces from Al Houthi attacks and clear the road ahead of the impending offensive.

“Before marching towards Al Hodeida and its seaport, we have to secure the eastern side from Al Houthi incursion,” Al Maliki told Sky News Arabia in Thursday.

Confirming previous reports about massive assault on Hodeida, Al Maliki said government forces would march towards Hodeida from their current positions in Hays after the Republic Guards complete their mission in the mountains.

“This is an extension of previous operations. The [anti-Al Houthi] forces are based in Hays town, almost 70 km from Hodeida,” Al Maliki said, adding that government forces are making advances on key battlefields in Baydha, Saada, Hajja, Sana’a’s Nehim.

Backed my massive support from the Saudi-led coalition, government forces have made major breakthrough in their battle against Al Houthis by pushing deeper into Hodeida province for the first time since the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition operations in Yemen three years ago.

The aim of the offensive, that began early last year, is securing the strategic Bab Al Mandab Strait and denying Al Houthi access to the Red Sea where they smuggle in arms from Iran.

If government forces seize control of Hodeida, Al Houthis would lose their last major seaport and an important source of finance.