Aden: Saudi-backed forces loyal to Yemen’s exiled government have seized a town south of the militia-held capital, military officials said on Tuesday, in their latest advance against Al Houthi militiamen.
The “Popular Resistance Committees” — comprising pro-government fighters, tribes, and southern separatists — seized overnight the town of Utmah, about 100 kilometres south of Sana’a, the officials said.
The town is in the Zaydi majority province of Dhammar next to Sana’a province, where the Iran-backed militia have held the capital since September.
Loyalist forces also seized six towns in the mountainous central Ibb province, where local tribes have been clashing with Al Houthis for months, the officials said.
Backed by a Saudi-led coalition that has been carrying out air strikes since March, pro-government forces have been battling for months to restore President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in exile in Riyadh, to power.
The officials were unable to provide details on the number of loyalist or rebel casualties in the fighting.
Pro-government forces have launched a major counter-offensive in recent weeks and recaptured four southern provinces — Abyan, Aden, Daleh, and Lahj.
The advance has been leading toward third city Taez, southwest of Sana’a.
Pro-government militia sources said clashes were ongoing in Taez, which would be a major prize if retaken by loyalist forces.
Elsewhere, military officials said the pro-rebel governor of the southeastern Shabwa province, Ali Al Awlaqi, fled to an unknown location on Monday as loyalist forces prepared to enter the province.
The officials accused the militia of planting landmines in government buildings across the province, in a sign that they were planning to retreat.
Complaining of marginalisation, the Al Houthis descended from their northern stronghold last year and seized Sana’a unopposed.
They advanced on the main southern city of Aden in March, forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia and prompting Yemen’s neighbour to lead an air war on the militia.
As well as the Al Houthis, rebel forces include renegade troops still loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in 2012.
The latest turnaround in the fighting coincided with the appearance on the battleground of modern equipment that, according to military sources, the Saudi-led coalition had provided to Hadi’s supporters.
A military source last week also reported the deployment of “hundreds of soldiers from Gulf countries” in the coalition to Aden, along with dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles.
Meanwhile, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Tuesday that Yemen is “crumbling” under a deepening humanitarian crisis after months of civil war.
Peter Maurer, ending a three-day visit to the country, called for free access to deliver life-saving food, water and medicines, while urging the warring parties to work towards a negotiated solution.
“The humanitarian situation is nothing short of catastrophic. Every family in Yemen has been affected by this conflict...The world needs to wake up to what is going on,” Maurer said in a statement.
Nearly 4,000 people have been killed and 1.3 million forced to flee their homes during the conflict, he said.
“The compounded effects of intense fighting and import restrictions are having a dramatic impact on health care. Health facilities have been massively attacked as well as suffering collateral damage,” said Maurer.
“Medicines can’t get in so patient care is falling apart.
Fuel shortages mean equipment doesn’t work. This cannot go on.
Yemen is crumbling. As a matter of urgency, there must be free movement of goods into and across the country ... Much more needs to be done.” Since January, the ICRC — one of the few international relief agencies left in Yemen — has helped supply water to more than two million people and provided food and other essentials for more than 100,000, the statement said.