A soldier loyal to Yemen's government walks at the base of the Yemeni Army's 3rd Region in the country's central province of Marib Image Credit: REUTERS

Al Mukalla: Thousands of Yemen government forces on Sunday morning seized control of two cities in Marib and Shabwa a day after three army brigades launched a major offensive to liberate the Al Houthi-controlled territories in the two provinces, local army commanders said on Sunday.

In the central province of Marib, forces from Brigade 26 stormed the city of Hareb and the surrounding mountainous regions after brief clashes with the Iran-backed militants.

Other forces from the 19 and 21 Brigades took control of Ousylan in the southern province of Shabwa.

Brigadier General Mousfer Al Harethi, commander of Brigade 19, told Gulf News on Sunday that his forces were backed up by intense air strikes from Saudi-led coalition warplanes in the city of Ousylan.

“We have managed to liberate these areas quickly after a well-planned military attack. Al Houthis stationed snipers on the surrounding mountains to obstruct our advances,” he said.

Regarding the significance of Sunday’s gains, Al Harethi said that by seizing these areas in the district, his forces have secured major oil and gas fields in the province.

“All oil and gas fields are under our control and we are ready to protect any company that would begin production.”

Al Harethi said that there are 2,800 army soldiers under his command who have recently graduated from a 4-month intensive military training in the desert district of Al Aber in the Hadramout province.

Mohsen Al Qumishi, a spokesperson for the governor of Shabwa, told Gulf News that the two army brigades which took part in the offensive in Shabwa were equipped with modern weapons supplied by the Saudi-led coalition.

He said the army troops are marching towards Al Safara, Al Suleem and Al Nougum regions in the same district.

“They can take control of these regions within hours, but were slowed down by landmines. Al Houthis carpeted the desert of Shabwa with landmines.”

Officials say that if the government forces continue to advance at the current pace, they would be able to liberate all regions under Al Houthis’ control in Shabwa, like Bayhan, in the coming days.

“Brigade 19 is advancing from the northern side of Bayhan while Brigade 21 is advancing from southeastern side of the district. They are planning to meet in Bayhan in the coming days,” Al Qumishi said.

Meanwhile, heavy clashes broke out in the city of Taiz on Sunday when the Al Houthis launched a counterattack to recapture key military positions that previously fell to government forces.

Local army officers said that Al Houthis mounted attacks on the headquarter of Brigade 35, the old airport and some other areas but failed to break government forces’ lines.

Local medics said Al Houthis shelled residential areas in the city as they retreated, killing 15 civilians and injuring at least 30.

Mohammad Al Qubati, the head of the Supreme Medical Committee, told Gulf News on Sunday that Al Houthi shells continue to hit the city despite recent victories by the government forces. “The indiscriminate shelling of residential areas in Taiz has continued unabated for 11 months,” he said.