Anti-Houthi forces advance, set sights on Taiz

Friday 14/08/2015
International airport of Yemen\'s southern city of Aden

LONDON -Forces loyal to the exiled Yemeni government con­tinue making gains in the war against Iran-allied Houthi rebels and are less than 100 kilometres from Sana’a.

The latest advances by the anti- Houthi coalition, which is made up of pro-government fighters, Sunni tribes and southern separatists, came with the August 10th seizure of the town of Utmah, south of the capital.

Residents said pro-government militias clashed with the Houthis in the city of Ibb on August 11th. Local tribal fighters advanced into the central part of the city, home to about 200,000 people, from sur­rounding rural areas and set up checkpoints at its entrances.

Residents reached by phone re­ported hearing heavy gunfire, ac­cording to Reuters.

Clashes with Houthi forces also raged in the central provinces of al-Bayda and Shabwa, where local militiamen, backed by warplanes from Gulf states, appeared to be gaining the upper hand.

Exiled officials have pledged to gradually resume their presence on Yemeni soil, beginning from their newly won base in the south.

The major advances by anti- Houthi fighters began courtesy of a military drive prepared and funded by Gulf states, which trained and supplied Yemeni recruits especial­ly for the task. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, deployed special forces and backed the campaign with hundreds of air strikes.

Analysts say that the final piece of the puzzle in winning the war in Yemen lies in the strategic city of Taiz, south-west of Sana’a. Accord­ing to news reports, pro-govern­ment forces are involved in clashes with rebels.

However, Yemeni analyst Ab­dul-Aziz al-Sabri said, the gains achieved in the south by anti- Houthi forces are a result of the re­bel group pulling their forces back to Taiz.

“Whoever wins Taiz wins all of Yemen,” he told Agence France- Presse (AFP).

The conflict in Yemen began in late March when the Saudi-led Arab coalition started an aerial campaign against rebels in an ef­fort to restore the country’s recog­nised government headed by Pres­ident Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

This was preceded by Houthis taking over the southern port of Aden, after a year of advances, forcing Hadi and his cabinet to flee to Riyadh.

Meanwhile, international aid agencies describe the humanitar­ian situation in Yemen as “cata­strophic”.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Yemen was “crumbling” after months of civil war.

“The humanitarian situation is nothing short of catastrophic. Eve­ry family in Yemen has been affect­ed by this conflict,” ICRC President Peter Maurer said in a statement. After a three-day visit he called for free access to deliver necessities, including food, clean water and medicine.

The World Health Organisation estimates that about 4,345 people have been killed and 22,110 injured since March 19th.

A UN official warned that armed factions were deliberately starving civilians in the conflict. Six million people are “severely food inse­cure”, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Hilal Elver said in a statement.

Armed groups besieging popula­tion centres were partly to blame, Elver said.

“Sieges in a number of gover­norates, including Aden, Al Dhali, Lahj and Taiz, have been prevent­ing staple food items, such as wheat, from reaching the civilian population,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, according to the United Nations, almost 10,000 Yemeni refugees have arrived in Djibouti since late March, while thousands of Ethiopians and other migrants continue to travel to war-torn Yemen, many of them tricked by smugglers into believing the fighting there is over.