A government soldier looks as a UAE helicopter hovers over the sea off the coast of the southern city of Aden. Image Credit: REUTERS

Sana’a: Yemeni forces backed by heavy air strikes from the Saudi-led Arab coalition are aggressively attacking Al Houthis in Yemen’s southern province of Lahj, after they launched an offensive to retake Yemen’s largest military airbase in Al Anad, just north of the de facto capital of Yemen’s legitimate government led by President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The government relocated to Aden after the Iran-backed militant group occupied the Yemeni capital of Sana’a in 2014.

Al Houthis have reportedly captured a mountain overlooking the strategic base, after fierce battles that left 20 Al Houthi militants and six Yemeni forces dead, a military official said.

The airbase used to house US troops overseeing a drone war against Al Qaida until March 2014 when it was overrun by Al Houthis.

It was liberated by government forces in August last year as they made gains across the south against Al Houthi militants.

The Iran-backed rebels are now in a position to directly target Al Anad, which lies around 20 kilometres away.

Fighting has continued on several fronts in Yemen despite a UN-brokered ceasefire which took effect in April 11 and paved the way for ongoing talks in Kuwait.

The coalition said it intercepted a ballistic missile fired early on Tuesday towards the city of Marib, east of Sana’a.

Al Houthis overran the capital in late 2014 before moving into other parts of Yemen, prompting a Saudi-led coalition to intervene in March last year.

The UN says more than 6,400 people have been killed in Yemen since then, mostly civilians.

Fighting has driven 2.8 million people from their homes and left more than 80 per cent of the population needing humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, on the political front, Esmail Ould Shaikh Ahmad, the UN envoy for Yemen, appealed to the warring parties on Tuesday to finalise a peace deal as soon as possible, saying slow progress has been made in the past two months and it’s now time for concessions on the toughest issues.

He told the UN Security Council that the opposing parties have responded positively to a proposed road map he presented to end the conflict.

But Shaikh Ahmad said by video link from Kuwait where the talks have been taking place that the two sides have not yet agreed on the timeline and sequencing of the steps in the road map, including when a national unity government would be created.

Both sides “have demonstrated over the past weeks a true commitment to make peace, and a political wisdom in negotiations, which did not shy away from broaching sensitive and complicated issues”, Shaikh Ahmad said. “I am reassured by the commitment of the two delegations, but I am appealing to them to finalise these difficult negotiations and reach a comprehensive settlement as soon as possible.”

France’s UN Ambassador Francois Delattre said the talks are at “a critical juncture” and the parties need to engage seriously and “show flexibility to find a durable peace.” He warned that every passing day with more war “makes terrorist groups” such as Daesh and Al Qaida stronger.

The Security Council later stressed that there is no alternative to a political solution and urged the parties to reach a peace agreement, comply with the cessation of hostilities and respect humanitarian law. It also expressed strong concern over attacks by terrorist groups.

Ould Shaikh Ahmad said that in the next few days, he will provide the Yemeni parties with a written proposal for the upcoming period before consultations resume after a short break for both sides to consult their leaders.