Iran-backed rebels retake positions in south Yemen

Friday 06/11/2015
Temporary setback

ADEN (Yemen) - Yemen's Iran-backed rebels have regained several positions lost in recent months across the country's south, in a fresh push towards the Gulf-backed government's temporary headquarters in port city Aden, military sources said Sunday.

In Lahj province, which borders Aden, rebels are now positioned on a hill overlooking the strategic Al-Anad airbase, according to the sources.

The base currently houses Sudanese forces from a Saudi-led coalition that has been battling rebels across Yemen since March.

The rebel deployment near Al-Anad, which took place without fighting, "poses a real danger to pro-government and coalition forces," a military source said.

Backed by coalition strikes, supplies and troops, loyalist forces launched a major counter-offensive in July, pushing the rebels out of Aden and four other southern provinces -- Lahj, Daleh, Abyan, and Shabwa.

Saturday fighting between the rebels and loyalist troops in Al-Madaribah in southwestern Yemen on the border between Lahj and Taez provinces meanwhile left casualties on both sides, according to pro-government sources.

The rebels also retook the second city in Daleh province, Damt, after besieging it for hours and clashing with loyalist troops there, military sources said.

These clashes left 16 people dead, including nine loyalists, the sources said, adding that many others were wounded.

Forces fighting in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi "were forced to withdraw from the city," one of the sources said.

In the coastal city of Dhubab, near the Bab al-Mandab strait, the rebels seized a military base following clashes with pro-government troops that left six loyalists and 11 rebels dead, another military source said.

Pro-government troops seized Dhubab early last month, giving them effective control of Bab al-Mandab, through which much of the world's maritime traffic passes.

The Iran-backed Huthis, a Shiite minority from Yemen's north, seized control of capital Sanaa last year and then advanced south, forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia as they moved on to Aden.

They have allied with forces loyal to ousted strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Ministers only returned to Aden in mid-September from six months in Saudi exile after fleeing with Hadi.

Hadi designated Aden, where the humanitarian situation has drastically deteriorated during fighting, as the temporary capital.

The rebel advance comes as the United Arab Emirates, which has lost 68 soldiers during coalition operations, welcomed the first of its troops returning from Yemen.

While Emirati media reported that its soldiers had been replaced by a second deployment, Western sources this week indicated that only a limited number of UAE Special Forces will now remain in Yemen.

An official of the Fourth Military Region in Aden said that "the Huthis and their allies are seeking through their latest advances to return to Aden."

He spoke of a shortage in arms and ammunition among pro-government fighters in the south.

The United Nations says that around 5,000 people have been killed in Yemen's conflict since it escalated in March.