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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

Yemenis celebrate Houthi defeat in Taez

The liberation of west Taez signals progress in the three year battle to control this highlands city

Yemeni military policemen patrol the streets of Taez city, one of the areas secured from rebel control, on March 13, 2018. Ahmad Al Basha / AFP
Yemeni military policemen patrol the streets of Taez city, one of the areas secured from rebel control, on March 13, 2018. Ahmad Al Basha / AFP

The Yemeni military has captured west Taez from Houthi rebels, liberating thousands of residents and restoring some hope to what was once known as the “Dreamer’s City”.

For more than three years, since the Iran-backed militias seized the Yemeni capital Sanaa, residents of this sprawling highlands city have lived under the constant sound of artillery fire and explosives.

In addition to the daily violence, the civil war has also pushed Yemen's economy to the brink of collapse, leaving Yemenis unable to afford food staples and bottled water. Some Yemeni families have resorted to selling their daughters in marriage, in an attempt to lessen their financial burden.

The national forces, backed by the Arab Coalition, have been stalemated against the rebels since the launch of the military campaign in 2015. Military victories have often been followed by equal defeats.

As the battle raged, Taez’s residents grew reluctant to celebrate the return of Yemeni forces into parts of their city, fearful of what might happen if Houthis regained control.

But this week, it seems the population has reason to celebrate.

As the Yemeni forces entered western parts of the city, residents emerged from their homes through doors that had remained shut for weeks on end.

"They are on their way to sweep the Houthi garbage out of our lovely city," 35-year-old activist Hayat Al Thoubhani told The National. "They are advancing very fast because the UAE knows how to run the battle on the ground."

She said life is beginning to return to Taez’s abandoned streets as hundreds of displaced families returned home after years of self-imposed exile.

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A football match, the first in three years, was held in Taez's central Al Shohada square on Sunday. “I couldn't hold my tears as the referee blew his whistle,” 31-year-old athlete Khaled Abdulrahman told The National. “The sound was a signal for a new start.”

Mr Abdulrahman described the years living under Houthi control as “a living hell”.

"Most of the city is liberated, the Houthis were driven down the hill," he said, signalling to the coalition’s success in capturing the strategic high ground. "The most important thing is that Houthis are being swept not just from Taez but from all over Yemen.”

Another citizen from Taez told The National that the Houthis had placed him under house arrest for three years. "It was a very nice moment when I found myself on Saturday with my kids in the city garden," said Yaqoub Al Barakani, a man in his forties. "My kids were flying with joy as they approached the gate of the garden because they kept me imprisoned at home to watch the smoke of explosions."

The Houthis have been driven to the outskirts of the city.

The Yemeni army is now hoping to complete its victory in time for Ramadan.

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