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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Another district falls in Yemen forces' march on Hodeidah

Saudi forces bring down Iran-made drone launched by Houthi rebels as they suffer collapse on Red Sea coast

A kamikaze drone is seen on display after US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley unveiled previously classified information intending to prove Iran violated a UN resolution by providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with arms. Jim Watson / AFP
A kamikaze drone is seen on display after US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley unveiled previously classified information intending to prove Iran violated a UN resolution by providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with arms. Jim Watson / AFP

Yemeni troops moved closer to a key rebel-held port on Sunday after seizing control of Hodeidah's Al Duraihami district, the latest victory in lightning offensive launched in the province last week with support from the UAE Armed Forces.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels left behind large numbers of weapons as they fled Al Duraihami, state news agency WAM reported.

Heavy fighting in Hodeidah between pro-government forces and the rebels has killed more than 150 people in the last four days, Yemeni officials and witnesses said on Sunday.

The large-scale offensive has seen ground troops carrying sophisticated weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles, backed by air support from the Arab Coalition, move to within 50 kilometres of the strategic port city of Hodeidah.

WAM described the operation as a severe blow for the Houthi rebels, who are said to have suffered heavy casualties and left in "an unprecedented state of confusion, panic and major collapse".

"Tens of their fighters fled the battlegrounds," WAM reported.

A Yemeni military source said coalition air support had been critical in liberating a number of strategic areas, including Zubaid and Jubaliya Junctions, Matina, Al Mugris, Al Mujalis and Al Suwaiq.

While government forces seize rebel-held areas along the western coast, the coalition has been targeting the rebels with air strikes in their stronghold of Saada province in north-west Yemen.

Hodeidah port is a vital lifeline through which most of the Yemen's food and medicine is shipped. The coalition accuses the Houthis of using Hodeidah and other ports to receive weapons and ammunition from Iran, which denies arming the rebels.

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On Saturday, the coalition said Saudi Arabia’s air defence shot down an Ian-manufactured Houthi drone near Abha International Airport in Asir province.

“At exactly 1.45pm, the air defence in charge of protecting Abha airport noted an unidentified object heading towards the airport, and it was dealt with accordingly and destroyed,” coalition spokesman Turki Al Malki said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) late on Saturday.

“After investigation by the Arab coalition, it turned out the object was a drone belonging to the Houthi militia with Iranian specificities that was targeting the protected airport."

An examination of the debris showed the drone was manufactured by Iran, Col Al Malki said.

He said the Arab coalition — which is fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen on behalf on the internationally-recognised government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi — targeted the “terrorist forces” in charge of assembling and arming drones in a workshop in Saada province.

“The Arab coalition will strike with an iron fist all those involved in terrorist activities and that threaten the security of civilians and residents in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“These hostile actions will not go unpunished.”

Earlier on Saturday, SPA reported that two Saudi soldiers were killed while fighting the Houthi rebels close to the Saudi-Yemen border. It did not provide details on when or how the soldiers were killed but said senior officials took part in their funerals.

The Saudi-led Arab coalition, in which the UAE plays a leading role, intervened in the Yemen war in March 2015 at the request of Mr Hadi’s government.

The Houthis have repeatedly fired missiles and launched drones into Saudi Arabia that the United States and UN experts say are of Iranian origin.