AL-MUKALLA: At least 100 Houthis were killed in heavy fighting with government forces outside Yemen’s central city of Marib in the past day as the Iran-backed rebels pressed ahead with assaults to recapture the strategic city, local officials and media reports said on Monday.
Backed by massive air support from Arab coalition warplanes, Yemeni government troops and tribal fighters on Sunday mounted counterattacks on Houthi positions south of Marib in a bid to push back the militia from strategic locations outside the city and seize control of new areas.
Fierce fighting raged between the two sides from Sunday to Monday near Al-Balaq Al-Sharqi mountain range and surrounding areas, claiming the lives of at least 100 Houthi fighters, including a field military leader.
“The national army seized control of three strategic hilly locations near Al-Balaq Al-Sharqi and cut off supply lines to pockets of Houthis,” a military official told Arab News by telephone, shortly after he returned from the raging battlefields in Marib.
“What I can say is that we managed to count the bodies of at least 100 Houthis killed during the last 24 hours.”
To pave the way for their forces to advance, the Houthis fired about 25 ballistic missiles at government-controlled areas and intensified drone and mortar attacks outside Marib.
“The Houthis hysterically shelled our forces with 25 ballistic missiles. The coalition’s warplanes intercepted and destroyed two of the missiles in the air,” the official said.
The shelling did not help the Houthis make new gains on the ground as government troops held strong in their positions and killed waves of Houthi fighters.
West of Marib, eight Houthis, including a field leader, were arrested, and many other militia members were killed when government troops repelled attacks.
Local army officials said that warplanes from the Arab coalition on Monday conducted dozens of air sorties in support of government troops on the ground by targeting Houthi military reinforcements and locations outside Marib city.
In February, the Houthis renewed a military offensive to recapture the oil and gas-rich city of Marib, the government’s last stronghold in the northern part of the country.
In the neighboring province of Shabwa, hundreds of troops from the Giants Brigades were deployed in the oil-rich province ahead of an expected offensive to dislodge the Houthis from the Bayhan, Al-Aid and Ouselan districts and to alleviate military pressure on government troops in Marib province.
A long convoy of military vehicles carrying fighters and military equipment were seen departing positions along the country's west coast and heading toward Attaq city, Shabwa’s provincial capital.
In November, the Arab coalition announced the redeployment troops in Hodeidah province as part of a new strategy to reinforce government troops battling the Houthis.
In Riyadh, Yemen President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ordered the new governor of Shabwa, Awadh Mohammed Al-Wazer Al-Awlaki, who took the constitutional oath before the president on Monday, to work on unifying political and tribal forces and mobilizing efforts to expel the Houthis from areas in the province.
Separately, Yemen’s government on Monday demanded the Lebanese government contain the military activities of Iran-backed Hezbollah in the war-torn country amid an influx of fighters, military experts and weapons from Lebanon.
“We ask about the position of the presidency, the government, political forces, elites and the brotherly Lebanese people regarding the aggression led by the Hezbollah militia against Yemen,” Muammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s minister of information, culture and tourism, said on Twitter.
“We renew the call to the brothers in Lebanon to declare a clear position on the aggression of the Hezbollah militia, to exert real pressure to withdraw its experts and fighters, stop the smuggling of weapons to Yemen, and to prevent the use of the lands and capabilities of the Lebanese state to support the Houthi militia.”
The Yemeni government’s criticism of Hezbollah activities in Yemen came a day after the Arab coalition revealed to reporters a video showing Hezbollah experts training Houthi fighters in the use of explosive-rigged drones.