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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Yemeni families return to Saada as Houthis are driven back

Civilians were driven out when Iran-backed rebels seized the northern province

Yemeni soldiers ride on the back of a military patrol vehicle in the port city of Mokha. Pro-government forces are reporting steady gains against Houthi rebels along the Red Sea coast and in the northern province of Saada. Aziz El Yaakoubi / Reuters
Yemeni soldiers ride on the back of a military patrol vehicle in the port city of Mokha. Pro-government forces are reporting steady gains against Houthi rebels along the Red Sea coast and in the northern province of Saada. Aziz El Yaakoubi / Reuters

Yemeni families who fled Houthi violence in Saada province began returning to their homes this week as government forces expand their control in the rebel stronghold.

The Houthis have controlled the northern province since 2004, when fighting broke out between the Iran-backed insurgents and the army. The rebels killed thousands of the civilians and forced more than 5,000 to flee to other provinces because they refused to ally with the group, according to the Yemeni civil organisation Withaq.

On Wednesday and Thursday, dozens of families returned to their homes in Saada's Kitaf district after government forces drove Houthis from the area, said Ismail Al Sharafi, a journalist from Saada who works with the army.

"Many families who were forcibly displaced by the Houthis from Kitaf, which is one of the main strongholds of the Houthi movement in Saada, returned home after years of displacement," Al Sharafi told The National.

More than 10 families returned to the Al Farea area of Kitaf on Wednesday and were welcomed back by Major General Radad Al Hashimi, commander of the army's 83rd Brigade deployed there, and Sheikh Mohammed Salem bin Arkal, the local tribal leader.

Maj Gen Al Hashimi and Colonel Bader bin Naser, a deputy in the joint operations affiliated with the Arab Coalition in neighbouring Marib province, assured the residents of their safety and promised that aid would be delivered to them soon, Al Sharafi said.

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The return of the displaced families came as government forces backed by the Saudi-led Arab Coalition tightened their grip on Kitaf. On Thursday, the army gained control of the Al Atifin Valley and surrounding highlands after heavy fighting in which at least 30 rebels were killed, Brigadier Obeid Al Athlah told the military's 26 September website.

Col Yehya Al Hatimi, director of the army's information centre, told The National that Kitaf is one of five axes along which government forces are advancing to regain control of Saada.

Yemeni troops backed by the UAE Armed Forces, a key member of the Arab Coalition, have meanwhile made rapid advances along the Red Sea coast towards the rebel-held port of Hodeidah in the past week and are now on the outskirts of Hodeidah city. Retaking the port will cut off the main entry point for Houthi supplies to northern Yemen, including Saada and the rebel-held capital, Sanaa.

The Arab Coalition intervened in the Yemen war in March 2015 at the request of the internationally recognised government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi and has helped liberate most of southern Yemen from the rebels and extremist groups such as Al Qaeda.