Yemen loyalists advance against rebels in key province east of Sanaa
MARIB (Yemen) - Yemeni loyalist forces, backed by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, advanced Tuesday in a key province east of Sanaa on the third day of a major ground offensive against Shiite rebels, military sources said.
Troops loyal to exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi began an all-out offensive Sunday against the Iran-backed Huthis in Marib province, aiming to retake the capital a year after it fell to the insurgents.
Supported by coalition air cover and ground forces, pro-Hadi fighters captured two strategic hills in the rebel stronghold of Sirwah, on the route to Sanaa, an officer said.
"We have pushed the Huthis out of these two hills and entered Al-Zor," a rebel position near Sirwah, Captain Zaid al-Qaisi of the Marib-based 14th Brigade said.
"Coalition ground forces, mainly from the United Arab Emirates and also Saudi Arabia, are participating in the offensive," he said, adding that they have been clearing mines planted by the rebels.
The UAE had said its troops were taking part in the latest operations in Marib and announced Monday the death of a second soldier.
Clashes also raged southwest of the Marib provincial capital, close to the historic site of the Marib Dam, military sources said.
Marib city is controlled by troops and tribes loyal to Hadi, but rebels control parts of the oil-rich province.
The coalition launched an air war on the rebels in March after they had advanced on the southern port city of Aden, where the president had taken refuge following his escape from the capital, which the Huthis seized last September.
Pro-Hadi fighters, backed by troops freshly trained and armed by Saudi Arabia, pushed the rebels out of Aden in July and have since recaptured four other southern provinces.
The United Nations says nearly 4,900 people have been killed and some 25,000 wounded since late March, while 21 million out of Yemen's population of 25 million have been affected by the conflict.