Yemen pro-government forces liberate Zinjibar in new blow to Huthi rebels
ADEN (Yemen) – Fighters backed by the Arab military coalition have reportedly seized the key city of Zinjibar in southern Yemen, dealing another major blow to the dominant Huthi rebel group.
The capital city of Abyan province on the Arabian Sea had been a major focus of forces battling the Huthis. It is the fourth regional capital they have won since taking control of the port of Aden last month.
The successful drive to take Zinjibar on Saturday was launched from the northern and southern sides of the city, military sources said.
Elsewhere, at least eight civilians were killed in the latest round of fighting in the Huthi-controlled city of Taiz - with heavy shelling reported.
The official United Arab Emirates news agency on Saturday reported the deaths of three Emirati coalition soldiers.
Without saying where or when they were killed, WAM said they died while taking part in "the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia to support the legitimate government in Yemen".
Meanwhile, military sources said at least 22 people, mostly returning civilians, have been killed since Thursday by explosions caused by mines planted by retreating Houthis in Aden and Lahj provinces.
The capture of Zinjibar comes days after tribal and military sources said Saudi Arabia, leading an Arab coalition air war on the Iran-backed Huthi rebels, had sent new materiel to Yemen.
The tanks were part of a package including other armoured vehicles and personnel carriers as well as hundreds of Yemeni soldiers trained in the kingdom, a military source said.
This week has seen fierce fighting in Zinjibar and heavy coalition air strikes against positions of the 15th Army Brigade allied to the Huthis.
Since March 26, the coalition has supported loyalists with air strikes aimed at halting advances by the Huthis, who seized Sanaa last year before pressing south into the port city of Aden.
Pro-government forces retook Aden last month and Tuesday seized the key airbase of Al-Anad to its north.
Aden was the last refuge of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi before he fled into exile with his government in Saudi Arabia in March.
International Committee of the Red Cross chief Peter Mauer arrived in Sanaa Saturday at the start of a three-day visit to assess the "dire humanitarian situation" in the country.
He is to hold talks with leading officials, an ICRC statement said, without identifying them.
Rebel officials said he would meet Huthi leaders and their allies in the General People's Congress party of ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The United Nations says nearly 4,000 people have been killed since March, half of them civilians, while 80 percent of Yemen's 21 million people are in need of aid and protection.
The ICRC says 1.3 million Yemenis have been displaced by the conflict.
"The human cost of this conflict is such that no family in Yemen today has been left unaffected," Mauer said ahead of his visit.
"We are particularly concerned about attacks on medical facilities and personnel. Moreover, deliveries of food, water and medicine must be facilitated not hampered," he said.
It was not clear if Mauer will visit Aden, devastated by four months of fierce fighting and air strikes.
The conflict will be among issues discussed during a visit by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to Moscow on Tuesday, the Russian foreign ministry said.
Moscow said Jubeir and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov would pay "great attention" to the conflict and discuss strategies for a "speedy resolution".