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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 August 2018

Yemeni forces prepare to liberate Zabid city

Mobilisation of forces also reported in other areas of Hodeidah province

Pro-government forces gather in near the city of Zabid in Yemen's Hodeidah province. AFP
Pro-government forces gather in near the city of Zabid in Yemen's Hodeidah province. AFP

Yemeni pro-government forces are massing for an offensive to liberate the rebel-held city Zabid in Hodeidah province.

The Yemeni Resistance Forces has sent thousands of trained fighters to participate in the operation, UAE state news agency Wam said.

Using advanced military equipment, the forces will attempt to liberate the historical city while avoiding casualties to civilians, who are being used as human shields by the Houthi rebels, Wam said.

A Unesco World Heritage Site, Zabid is considered a key point for Yemeni forces to advance deeper into rebel-held areas east of Hodeidah.

Yemeni forces backed by the Arab Coalition have already seized several areas of the province from the Iran-backed rebels, while an offensive to retake Hodeidah city and its vital port was suspended early this month to assist UN mediation efforts.

The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, stepped up negotiations with the Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels after the offensive on Hodeidah city was launched in mid-June. Coalition and government forces recaptured Hodeidah's airport but operations were halted to allow Mr Griffiths to negotiate a peaceful handover of the city and the resumption of peace talks.

So far, the Houthis have offered only to hand over control of Hodeidah port to the UN.

Officers in the two main Yemeni forces involved in the Hodeidah offensive, the Amalikah Brigades and the Tihama Resistance, have told The National that the coalition had ordered them to gather their forces and summon soldiers back from leave in recent days.

The coalition itself has moved heavy reinforcements to the western front, including tanks and armoured vehicles, the officers said.

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Separately, six high-ranking Houthi rebels were reported killed during clashes on Friday in the northern province of Saada, the rebel stronghold. Ramzi Mokhtar, a journalist covering the military operations in Saada and neighbouring Jawf province, told The National that the leaders were killed on the Al Malaheedh front in Al Dhaher district in the west of Saada.

The coalition last month announced that eight members of Lebanon's Hezbollah were killed during clashes in Saada, the first official confirmation that fighters from the group, which also backed by Iran, were present in Yemen.

In response to a protest from Yemen, Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said his government's position on the Yemeni crisis was not identical with those of all Lebanese political groups.

Lebanon distances itself from conflicts and interference in the internal affairs of other countries in the region, Mr Bassil said in a letter to Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Alyemanim, a source in the foreign ministry told the state-run Saba news agency.

The source told Saba that Mr Bassil's letter in effect said that the Iran-backed group had departed from the Lebanese government's policy. Hezbollah has expressed support for the Houthi rebels, but denied being involved Yemen's three-year-old civil war.

The coalition has helped government forces wrest large areas of southern Yemen from rebel control since entering the conflict at President Abdrabu's Mansur Hadi's request in March 2015. Fighting now is concentrated mainly in the northern Yemen and the coastal province of Hodeidah.

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