Yemeni pro-government forces take second rebel-held city in 24 hours
ADEN // Pro-government Yemeni forces on Friday captured the capital of northern Al Jawf province, the second rebel-held city to fall in 24 hours.
News of the seizure of Al Hazm came as the Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels said two ballistic missiles had been launched from Yemen towards Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh said one of the missiles was intercepted by the kingdom’s air defences, but that the other hit an area of desert east of the Saudi Arabian city of Najran. It did not mention any casualties.
Faisal Al Aswad, a journalist based in Al Hazm district where Al Hazm city is located, said local resistance fighters were clearing the area of Houthi rebels, after Yemeni troops and allied tribesmen captured local government buildings.
“Pro-government forces took over the public compound, which consists of most of the government offices in the province and [the provincial headquarters] of all government institutions,” Mr Al Aswad said.
The pro-government forces seized Al Hazm after making significant gains in the neighbouring province of Marib, residents and tribal sources said.
Yemeni troops had captured the northwestern town of Harad on Thursday after crossing over from Saudi Arabia where they had been trained and equipped.
About 1,000 soldiers were involved in the operation to take the town, a Yemeni military official said, adding that dozens of renegade troops allied with the Iran-backed Houthis had been killed.
Mr Al Aswad, the journalist, said Yemeni forces took over the whole of Al Hazm district after recapturing two military bases, including Alabinat, which is near to Al Hazm city.
“Pro-government forces detained dozens of Houthis and [allied soldiers loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh] inside Alabinat, after their colleagues outside the camp fled the district, leaving them behind,” he added.
Mubarak Al Abadi, an anti-Houthi activist in Al Hazm, said that most of the district’s residents were opposed to the rebels. When the pro-government forces arrived in Al Hazm, he said, residents joined them in liberating the district.
Fadhl Al Rabei, a political analyst and head of the Aden-based Madar Strategic Centre for Studies told The National that the capture of Al Hazm and Harad was a reaction to the multiple violations of an agreed ceasefire by the Houthis. The truce came into force on Tuesday and was supposed to hold for a week.
“This means that there is not a ceasefire on the ground, but these victories [by pro-government fighters] will force the Houthis to accept a political solution as they have lost many areas in different provinces, while the loyalist forces are advancing towards Sanaa,” he said.
In Switzerland, Yemeni peace talks were reportedly halted on Friday after the Houthis suspended all meetings with the internationally recognised government of Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, members of both sides said.
The United Nations, which is mediating the talks, cast doubts on the reported suspension, however.
“We don’t have confirmation of any suspension,” said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN secretary general. He added that the UN special envoy for the country, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, “remains in touch with the parties”.
In the Yemeni city of Taez, meanwhile, the Houthis continued shelling residents inside the besieged provincial capital. A day before, an agreement had been made during the talks in Switzerland that humanitarian aid deliveries would resume to Taez. But on Friday, local relief group the Humanitarian Relief Coalition said no UN aid had reached the city. It accused the rebels of blocking aid delivery to areas where pro-government loyalists held positions.
* with additional reporting by agencies
Updated: December 18, 2015 04:00 AM