x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 14 December 2017

Saudi-led coalition scores major gains in Yemen

It comes after former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed on Monday

President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed on Monday when local fighters captured an area on the Red Sea coast from Houthi rebels. Ryan Carter / The National
President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed on Monday when local fighters captured an area on the Red Sea coast from Houthi rebels. Ryan Carter / The National

A Western-backed Saudi-led coalition scored its first major gains in Yemen since former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed on Monday when local fighters captured an area on the Red Sea coast from Houthi rebels, residents said on Thursday.

Saleh, who had made common cause with the Houthis after they captured the capital Sanaa in 2014, switched sides in an announcement last week that plunged the country deeper into turmoil.

Residents said southern Yemeni fighters and allied local forces captured al-Khoukha district located some 350 km (220 miles) south-west of Sanaa after heavy fighting over Wednesday night which also involved coalition forces.

Houthi forces control Sanaa and much of the rest of the impoverished country, where three years of war has killed more than 10,000 people and brought it to the verge of famine.

Saleh had helped the Houthis win control of Sanaa and much of the north and his decision to abandon them had major implications on the battlefield.

The Houthis crushed a pro-Saleh uprising in the capital and shot him dead in an attack on his convoy on December 4.

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Saleh’s body remained at a military hospital in Sanaa while the Houthis - who control the capital - and members of his party sparred over burial plans, sources close to the family said.

The sources said the Houthis had demanded that Saleh’s body be buried in a family ceremony at his home village of Sanhan, south of Sanaa, while the family was insisting that the Houthis hand over the body without any conditions.

The U.S. and U.K.-backed Saudi-led coalition has stepped up air strikes on Yemen since Saleh’s death as Houthi forces have tightened their grip on the capital.

The Saudi Press Agency said the Yemen News Agency reported the “Yemeni government confirmed that the campaigns of assassinations, field executions and arrests of leaders and members of the General People's Congress Party as well as its military and security leadership by the Iranian-backed Al-Houthi coup militia will not be tolerated”.

The SPA continued: "the government also vowed, during its meeting held in the interim capital Aden and chaired by the Yemeni Prime minister Ahmed Obaid bin Dagher, to punish all the criminals and those responsible for those crimes and their supporters and financiers, indicating that Al-Houthi militia backed by Iran continued to storm the homes of residents and violate their sanctities and killed anyone who opposes the Iranian sectarian project in cold blood using fascist and brutal acts”.