Al Mukalla: Yemeni government forces slowed their offensive along the western coast to allow army’s sappers to defuse thousands of landmines planted by the fleeing Al Houthis, local army commanders said on Friday.

“The army troops stopped in Jadeed region and would advance further north towards new areas after removing the landmines.” Khaled Fadhel, the commander of Taiz Axis told Gulf News by telephone.

Backed by massive air support from the Saudi-led coalition, hundreds of army troops on January 6 launched a major military operation in the west aimed at pushing out the rebel forces from the entire western coast and put an end to the flow of arms supplies from Iran. To obstruct the movement of government forces, the Al Houthi rebels planted a huge number of landmines in the area and deployed their snipers in the nearby hilly locations.

Fadhel said the rebel snipers have stepped up their attacks on the sappers and their guards. “We have lost several sappers during this operation,”

Dozens of rebel fighters have been killed and many others captured since the beginning of the operation. Fadhel said Al Houthis are putting up stiff resistance as the government forces get closer to Mocha town. “Mocha is a major point for smuggling arms into the country. So they are fighting hard to keep it under their control.” he said.

In the north, heavy clashes broke out between the government forces and Al Houthis in Nehim district, outside the rebel-controlled Sana’a.

Abdullah Al Sandaqi, a spokesperson for Sana’a resistance, said on Thursday night the Saudi-led coalition carried heavy air strikes on Al Houthi military reinforcements heading to the battlefield in Nehim, destroying three armed vehicles and killing a number of rebel fighters including a field commander.

Similar clashes also erupted on Thursday and Friday in Al Metoun district in the northern province of Jawf and Haradh and Medi districts in Hajja province.

Military officials said on Saturday that the Coalition’s air defence system intercepted a number ballistic missiles fired by Al Houthis aimed at military camps in Mareb.

Coalition’s warplanes on Saturday carried out at least 15 air sorties on Sana’a, targeting a Republican Guard camp and other military sites controlled by Al Houthis.