Pro-Hadi forces advance in south Yemen ahead of humanitarian truce
SANAA - Pro-government forces battled retreating rebels on the northern outskirts of Yemen's second city of Aden Sunday ahead of a humanitarian truce declared by the Saudi-led coalition bombing the Iran-backed insurgents.
Troops loyal to exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi sought to tighten their control of the southern port city and surrounding areas ahead of the ceasefire, scheduled to take effect at midnight (2100 GMT).
But Huthi rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi rejected the unilaterally declared truce, according to a statement on a Twitter account believed to be managed by his group, saying it was aimed at allowing pro-government fighters to regroup.
It was not immediately possible to contact the Huthis to confirm the remarks.
The impoverished nation has been rocked by months of fighting between Huthi Shiite rebels and Hadi loyalists, supported by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, leaving thousands dead and many more in need of urgent aid.
Pro-Hadi Popular Resistance militiamen attacked the Huthis overnight Saturday on the northern outskirts of Aden, forcing the rebels out of the areas of Basateen and Jawala.
The loyalist forces have been bolstered by new weaponry and armoured vehicles delivered by the coalition.
They also benefited from air support by coalition warplanes, military sources said, adding that dozens of rebels were killed in the latest fighting.
Seven pro-Hadi fighters were also killed and 29 others wounded, a medical source said.
Further north, troops loyal to Hadi forced rebels out of the town of Sabr in Lahj province, General Fadhel Hassan said.
Hassan said pro-Hadi troops had taken the town that links Aden to Huta, the provincial capital of Lahj, adding that Huta is the next target before reaching Al-Anad, the country's largest airbase.
The strategically important base housed US troops involved in a long-running drone war against Al-Qaeda before the fighting forced them to withdraw.
In a sudden turn of events, pro-Hadi forces last week regained control of much of Aden, which was overrun by Huthi rebels in March.
Troops trained and armed by the coalition appeared to have triggered the shift in the balance in the Hadi loyalists' favour.
The Huthis and allied renegade forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh advanced on Aden after Hadi took refuge in the city following his escape from house arrest in Sanaa in February.
He later fled to Saudi Arabia which assembled an Arab coalition that launched an air campaign in late March against the rebels in a bid to restore the UN-backed leader.
In Riyadh, Hadi on Sunday received the UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
The two "discussed coordination over humanitarian aid delivery within the framework of the declared truce," a Yemeni presidency source said.
The Saudi-led coalition the five-day truce to allow aid deliveries but said it reserved the right to respond to "military activity or movement".
The truce was announced at Hadi's request, it said.
A UN-declared six-day truce failed to take hold earlier this month after it was ignored by the coalition and the rebels.
The coalition said at the time it did not receive a request to halt operations from Hadi. UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was "disappointed" over the failure of the truce.
But desperately needed relief supplies have recently begun to trickle into Aden after pro-Hadi fighters secured the city.
A ship carrying 3,000 tonnes of food supplies from the UN's World Food Programme docked in Aden Tuesday, the first UN vessel to reach the city in four months of fighting.
Other ships from the UN and Gulf countries followed.
On Saturday, a WFP ship carrying 3,400 tonnes of mixed food supplies arrived in Aden, WFP spokeswoman Reem Nada said, adding that the shipment was enough to feed 192,000 people for a month.
The United Nations says the conflict has killed more than 3,640 people, around half of them civilians, since late March.
On Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that civilian suffering in Yemen had reached "unprecedented levels".