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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Yemen's Houthis order arrest of 50 deserters along Red Sea coast: military sources

The Iran-backed rebels set up checkpoints around areas besieged by pro-government forces in order to catch fighters who had fled front lines

Houthi fighters are pictured on a street in Sanaa on December 6, 2017. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters
Houthi fighters are pictured on a street in Sanaa on December 6, 2017. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

The Houthis have ordered the arrest of 50 of its fighters who fled the front lines along Yemen's Red Sea coast, as its forces suffer heavy losses.

The Iran-backed rebels set up checkpoints around areas besieged by pro-government forces in order to catch the deserters, UAE state news agency Wam reported on Saturday, citing Yemeni military sources.

The UAE is a leading member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis alongside pro-government forces. The coalition intervened in Yemen's war in 2015 on behalf of the internationally recognised government of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.

The military sources said the Houthis were forcibly recruiting hundreds of civilians trapped in besieged areas along Yemen's Red Sea Coast amid low morale and a high death toll in rebel ranks.

The Houthis were threatening to kill or kidnap those who refused to join the fight, the sources added, sparking widespread content within rebel-held areas.

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The fight against the Houthis in Red Sea coastal areas is being carried out by Yemeni popular resistance fighters backed by UAE forces and coalition jets.

Also on Saturday, Wam reported that the Emirates Red Crescent – with the help of UAE forces – had distributed thousands of food baskets to residents in Taez province's Mokha district, also situated on the country's Red Sea coast.

Rashid Al Khattari, an ERC representative, said the aid organisation had distributed over 2,000 food parcels to residents in the village of Waheja, which was liberated over a year ago from Houthi control.

The ERC also provided food aid to civilians in the area of Tarim in Hadramawt province, farther east, amid severe food shortages nationwide, Wam said.

In the north of the country, Yemeni army troops backed by the coalition advanced to within 25 kilometres of the rebel-held capital, Sanaa, on Friday.

Troops fought a fierce battle with the Houthis to reach the district of Arhab in Sanaa province, north-east of the capital, said Khaled Al Karni, a journalist working for the Yemeni army. Arhab is located at the intersection of three provinces: Amran, Al Jawf and Sanaa.

Mr Al Karni told The National on Friday that forces fighting to restore Mr Hadi's government to power had advanced as far as Haran, a strategic area on the edge of Arhab.

Fierce fighting between pro-government forces and the Houthis was continuing in Arhab on Friday, Mr Al Karni said.

"Seventeen Houthi militants were killed amid raging confrontations in Arhab, including three Houthi leaders," the journalist added.

Arhab district borders Amran province, which in turn borders Saada province, the Houthis' main stronghold.

Any advance for the Yemeni army from Arhab to Amran would cut a key rebel supply route and mean the Houthis would be unable to send reinforcements to the capital from Saada.

In the south of Yemen, meanwhile, the coalition repelled a Houthi attack targeting the government-held Al Marboosh hill in the Hayfan area of Taez province, Ala Sultan, a journalist stationed in neighbouring Lahj province, told The National.