Al Mukalla: Government forces backed by air support from the Saudi-coalition took control of a border crossing in the northern province of Saada, inflicting a major defeat on the rebel forces inside their heartland, government officials said on Wednesday.

In a another major victory since the beginning of the war against the rebel forces, government forces on Tuesday stormed Al Buqa crossing in Saada province on the border with Saudi Arabia.

“We have gained control of Al Buqa [crossing] and will not stop until we liberate Saada [of Al Houthis],” a cabinet minister told Gulf News on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief reporters. Quoting the pro-government governor of Saada Hadi Tarshan, the state run Saba news agency said that the government forces advanced “tens of kilometres” into Saada province.

The fighters had been transported to the northern border from the government-controlled south with the support of Saudi Arabia.

By reaching Saada’s border crossing, the government forces have reached the closed point to the heavily fortified main heartland of Al Houthis. Local sources said the government forces that recaptured Al Buqa comprise of Salafist fighters who battled Al Houthis in Saada in 2013 during the early days of Al Houthis insurgency against the government of president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Media outlets loyal to the government posted photos of long armed vehicles crossing into Yemeni territories from the Saudi side of the border.

The fighters include many Islamists who had previously fought against the rebels in the south, among them ultra-conservative Salafist leader Bassam Al Mehbar, a militia source told AFP.

The Salafists ran several schools in Saada province before being evicted by the Al Houthi rebels when the civil war erupted in 2014.

Some of those expelled were among the militiamen involved in the incursion.

It is the second time that Saudi-backed government forces have tried to open up a new front against the rebels in the north by crossing from Saudi Arabia.

In December last year, troops advanced down the Red Sea coast, capturing the port of Midi, but that offensive has since made little headway.

The rebels and their allies still control most of the Red Sea coast, as well as the capital Sana’a and much of the central and northern highlands.

In Nehim, another fierce battlefield outside the capital, government forces battled Al Houthis on Tuesday and Wednesday amid heavy aerial bombardment from the Saudi-led coalition warplanes. For months, loyalists have pushed to break Al Houthis’ front lines and make a major advance towards the rebel-controlled Sana’a.

Meanwhile, Al Houthis fired three ballistic missiles on Tuesday night at Marib city, the base of thousands of government and coalition forces. A local security official, who preferred to speak off the record, told Gulf News that the coalition air defence intercepted two missiles and one exploded in a desert area, 500km from the city. “They would have caused carnage in the city if these rockets were not shot down,” the official said. Thousands of families who fled Al Houthis military expansion in Jawf, Sana’a and other provinces in northern Yemen have sought refuge in Marib city. Marib was among few Yemen provinces that fought off Al Houthis raids. Al Houthis have stepped up ballistic missile attacks against military bases in the city as their forces suffer heavy setbacks in Jawf, Taiz and Marib’s Serwah.

— with inputs from AFP