Al Mukalla: Yemeni government forces have escalated their push inside the northern province of Saada, Al Houthis’ heavily fortified heartland, seizing control of a number of mountainous locations and killing dozens of militiamen, Yemen’s Ministry of Defence said on Saturday.

In a statement on its official news site, the ministry said government forces engaged in heavy clashes with Al Houthi militants in the region of Ketaf, eastern Saada, as they resumed their assault on Al Houthi-occupied territory. The fighting focused on a chain of rough mountains in Ketaf and government forces achieved limited gains on the battlefield on Friday and Saturday, the ministry said.

Fighter jets from the Saudi-led coalition attacked Al Houthi military gatherings and sites in Ketaf, killing many militants, including Ahmad Hussain Mayed, a field commander, and destroyed military equipment.

Last week, Yemen’s army declared it had pushed more than 10 kilometres inside Ketaf after taking control of several hills and seizing arms abandoned by Al Houthis. The intensifying assault in Ketaf comes as thousands of other troops, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, are fighting their way into Al Houthi-held areas in the south-western and northern parts of the province. Yemen’s army and the coalition have recently opened up new fronts in Saada to erode Al Houthi power.

Al Houthi leader, Abdul Malek Al Houthi, and other senior commanders are thought to be sheltering in Saada. The Saudi-led coalition recently said Al Houthi ballistic missiles that were fired at Saudi Arabia were launched from Saada and Amran provinces. Ali Al Khelaki, a military expert, believes the current assaults in Saada would lead to the destruction of Al Houthi defences, despite the slowdown on mountainous battlefields. “The continuation of this push ... would inevitably lead to the crumbling of Al Houthi lines,” Al Khelaki told Sky News Arabia, adding that intensifying attacks in Saada would enable government forces on other fronts to make quick advances.

Meanwhile, in Nehim district, just outside of Al Houthi-held Sana’a, as many as 18 Al Houthis were killed in heavy clashes and air strikes by the coalition fighter jets. Abdullah Al Shandaqi, a spokesperson for the 7th Military Region, said Al Houthis had been pushed from a number of hills and the coalition’s fighter jets destroyed three military vehicles.

Three years ago, the Saudi-led coalition began a massive aerial bombardment in Yemen, aimed at putting an end to Al Houthis’ military expansion after they took over Sana’a and forced Yemen’s internationally-recognised president to decamp to the southern city of Aden. The bombing, along with military logistics, enabled government forces to reverse Al Houthi gains and seize control of almost 80 per cent of the Yemeni territory.