Goverment forces battle Al Houthis in their main bastion in Saada province. Image Credit: Courtesy: Yemeni army

Al Mukalla: Yemen’s army and Saudi-led coalition explosive sappers have defused more than 300,000 landmines and booby traps planted by the Iran-backed Al Houthis who suffer heavy setbacks on the battlefields.

The director of Yemen’s Mine Action Centre, Brigadier General Amen Al Oukaili, said Al Houthis have planted more than 500,000 landmines before fleeing areas liberated by Yemeni troops during the course of the three-year war.

Remaining landmines continue to pose a grave threat to civilians who return to their homes.

440 Yemenis have been killed by landmines

The aim of leaving behind the landmines is to slow down government forces as they advance on the battlefield.

Yemen’s under-secretary of the ministry of human rights, Majed Fadhael, was quoted by Saudi news agency as saying that Al Houthi-planted landmines have killed 440 people, mainly women and children and wounded more than 540 others.

Last year, Human Right Watch criticised Al Houthis for using landmines which are banned because of their indiscrminate killing and maiming of civilians.

Many Yemenis fear to return home because of the fear of stepping on a landmine which has kept the numbers of internally-displaced Yemenis high.

On Tuesday, Al Masdar Online news site reported a woman and her child were killed when a landmine planted by Al Houthis exploded in the southern city of Taiz.

Sabah Sultan, 30 and her child Ali Mouath, 6, were getting water from a water tanker when a landmine that was planted behind the tanker exploded, killing them instantly in Hathran region, west of Taiz.

Meanwhile, on the battlefield, fighter jets from the Saudi-led coalition escalated attacks against Al Houthi targets, west of Taiz, in support of thousands of army troops, led Tareq Mohammad Abdullah Saleh.

Yemen’s Defense Ministry said the coalition’s fighter jets bombed Al Houthi military equipment and gatherings in areas east of the Red Sea Mokha town as Tareq’s forces push deeper into Al Houthis’ shrinking territories in Taiz.

The ministry said the air strikes killed and wounded a number of Al Houthis and enabled ground forces to make limited advances in their push towards Al Bareh town.

Heavy fighting also broke out on Wednesday in the northeastern province of Saada, Al Houthis’ main heartland, where government forces made fresh gains that brought them closer to reaching Marran region, the birthplace of Al Houthi movement founder Hussain Al Houthi.

Local military commanders say government forces are battling Al Houthis on five fronts in Saada in a bid to cut off supply lines from and to Saada and erode their military power that protects Saada.

The Saudi-led Arab coalition entered the Yemeni war in 2015 just months after an Al Houthi coup forced internationally-recognised Yemeni president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi out of power.

540 Yemenis wounded by landmines

He later was able to escape house arrest and flee to Aden where he temporarily shifted government headquarters.

Since then, the coalition has gained back 86 per cent of Yemeni territory but major population centres still remain under Al Houthi control.

Saudi Arabia and the US have accused Iran of illegally smuggling weapons into Yemen to sustain Al Houthi war efforts.

In December, one such Iranian-made ballistic missile was fired towards Riyadh for the first time in the three-year war.

Although it was intercepted, Riyadh called it an ‘act of war’.

The war has cost the lives of thousands of Yemenis and pushed the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.

The latest government push seeks to take advantage of cracks in the awkward Al Houthi alliance with former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s supporters.

Saleh ruled Yemen for more than three decades until he was forced to resign following an Arab Spring uprising in 2011.

He remained in the country, however, and continued to wield power from behind the scenes.

In 2014, his forces allied with Al Houthi militia, despite the fact that as president he had gone to war with them.

There had been simmering tensions between the two awkward allies in past months that boiled over in December when Saleh suggested he would cooperate with Hadi — he was assassinated shortly after.

Since then senior members of Saleh’s party have either been executed or placed under house arrest by Al Houthis amid a draconion crackdown.

The broken alliance between Al Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh appears to be permanent, which will help the Yemeni government and its backers in the Saudi-led coalition weaken their grip on the country given the reduction in manpower.

In a recent meeting with New York Times editors, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman said that Al Houthis have become increasingly isolated politically.

He dismissed the seven missiles Al Houthis fired at Saudi Arabia from Yemen on March 25 as “a last-ditch effort” that only showed they were weak.

Saudi Arabia, he said, is now seeking to end the war through a political process, trying to divide Al Houthis and maintaining military pressure on them.