AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A senior military leader of the Iran-backed Houthi militia was killed in an Arab coalition airstrike last week in the central province of Marib, a Yemeni military official told Arab News on Sunday.
Maj. Gen. Zakaria Yahiya Al-Shami, a minister in the Houthi cabinet and former chief of staff of the militia’s army, was killed in Marib while leading rebel fighters during an offensive in the province on Wednesday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“This is a major blow to the Houthis since Al-Shami is the commander of the Houthi military wing. This is the most important Houthi leader to be killed in Arab coalition airstrike since Al-Samad,” the official said, referring to Saleh Al-Samad, a senior Houthi leader who was killed in 2018.
In 2017, the Arab coalition placed Al-Shami on the top of its wanted list and announced a $20 million reward for information leading to his location and arrest.
Houthi-allied journalists mourned the death of Al-Shami, but falsely blamed his death on a COVID-19 infection.
More than 1,000 Houthis, including dozens of high-ranking military officers, have been killed this year following the resumption of a major offensive to seize control of Marib city, the government’s last stronghold in the northern part of the country that contains major oil and gas fields.
Hundreds of air raids by coalition warplanes have destroyed Houthi military enforcements and equipment in Marib, shifting the balance of power in the government’s favor and enabling loyalists to push back Houthi attacks.
Yemeni army officers and politicians believe that the death of Al-Shami and other military leaders will provide loyalists a morale boost and could lead to the crumbling of Houthi forces.
The Arab coalition said on Sunday that it had targeted a weapons maintenance camp and ballistic missiles and drones assembly workshops affiliated to the Houthi militia in Sanaa.
“The targeting operation aims to neutralize and destroy the sources of impending attacks and to protect civilians,” the coalition said.
It also said that the operations carried out comply with international humanitarian law and its customary rules.
One civilian was killed and four others critically wounded on Sunday when a mortar shell fired by Houthis exploded in a residential area in the Al-Jahmalia neighborhood, east of Taiz city, residents and military officials said on Sunday.
Yemen’s army spokesperson in Taiz, Col. Abdul Basit Al-Baher, told Arab News that the shell ripped through a gathering of people outside the College of Arts in Taiz, killing a motorbike driver and fatally wounding four others.
“The Houthis targeted Taiz university with treacherous and cowardly shells,” Al-Baher said.
Houthis also tightened their siege of Taiz after closing a rugged road that links Taiz with other areas southeast of the city amid fighting between army troops and rebels on Saber mountain.
Residents have been using rough and dangerous slopes to leave or enter the city to avoid Houthi checkpoints at the southern, eastern and northern edges.
On Saturday, Houthis blocked roads from Taiz to Al-Huban, forcing residents to travel through dangerous terrain to leave the city, Al-Baher said.
“The closed road has no military significance for the national army, since our main supply line comes through the western side of the city. But the Houthis seek to exacerbate people’s suffering and the humanitarian crisis in the country,” Al-Baher added.
Yemeni army troops attacked Houthis on Saber mountain, southeast of Taiz, as part of a push to seize control of new areas and eventually break the siege of the city.
Last week, the Yemeni army partially broke the siege after liberating a strategic mountainous road southwest of Taiz that links the city with western areas on the Red Sea.
Yemen’s defense ministry said on Sunday that army troops foiled a Houthi offensive in recently liberated areas in the northern province of Hajja and killed more than 30 fighters.
On Sunday, Houthis attacked Abes district from the city with eight boats as other forces marched toward government-controlled areas from the ground. The army pushed back Houthis on the ground, destroyed their vehicles and killed 34 fighters, the ministry said in a statement.
Backed by massive military logistics and air cover, the Yemeni army early this month launched several assaults in Taiz and Hajja to relieve Houthi military pressure on government troops in the central province.
In Marib province, fierce fighting continued on several battlefields in Marib as the Yemeni army and allied tribesmen fought off several Houthi attempts to advance in Marib’s Al-Kasara and Helan.