Houthis driven from Bayhan district as coalition air strikes inflict more casualties on the rebels on the west coast
Yemeni forces retake last rebel outpost in Shabwa province
The Yemeni army and resistance fighters backed by the Saudi-led coalition captured a key area from Houthi rebels in the southern province of Shabwa on Friday.
The Ausailan area in Bayhan district was the last pocket of rebel control in Shabwa and is strategically important because it is located on a major road leading to Marib, a province to the north that is partly controlled by the rebels. The district lies about 300 kilometres south-east of the Houthi-held capital Sanaa.
Abdullah Al Fakeer, a commander in the Southern Resistance in Bayhan, told The National that the militia fighters and army troops had driven the Houthis out of most of the area by afternoon.
Al Sheikh Al Mansoori, one of the tribal leaders in the district, said the offensive against the Houthis began in the morning and was backed by coalition air strikes.
"The resistance and the army forces scored a strategic victory in a short time. We liberated most of Bayhan except some hills in Bayhan Al Oulya, but we are going to storm their last fortifications in the coming hours," Mr Al Mansoori told the Southern Resistance Voice newspaper based in Aden.
The army commander in Bayhan, Major General Mufreh Buhaibeh, later told the Al Hadath news channel that Bayhan had been fully liberated from the Houthis.
The government-run Sabanew agency said hundreds of rebels were killed or wounded in the fighting and those who survived had fled the area.
Meanwhile, 28 rebels were killed in coalition air strikes on Yemen's west coast, medics and security sources close to the insurgents told Agence France-Presse.
The security sources said the air strikes on Thursday and Friday hit five towns controlled by the Houthis about 70km south of the rebel-held port of Hodeidah.
Seventeen Houthis were wounded in the strikes, medics said.
The security sources said new clashes broke out Friday as government forces pressed their advance on the port from the south after seizing three districts of Hodeidah province last week.
The UN refugee agency warned that the fighting could cause a fresh displacement of civilians in the area.
UNHCR said it was "bracing for further displacement and a spike in humanitarian needs as hostilities intensify in front line areas on Yemen's west coast".
Hodeidah is the main conduit for UN-supervised deliveries of food and medicine but the port is controlled by the Houthis and remains closed, forcing the UN to divert aid supplies to other areas.
"To date we have deployed emergency relief items for 2,000 families in Hodeidah, and a further 2,000 aid kits are on their way along with 2,000 emergency shelter kits," the UNHCR said.
"As the port of Hodeidah remains closed an additional 43 containers with emergency, shelter and household aid, including plastic tarpaulins and blankets for more than 20,000 families, had to be diverted to Aden."
The southern port city of Aden is the temporary seat for the internationally recognised government of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, which was forced to flee Sanaa after the capital was overrun by the Houthis in September 2014. Further advances by the rebels prompted an intervention by the Saudi-led military coalition in March 2015.