‘Despite firepower, rebels still control capital’
ADEN: Clashes in Yemen killed at least 66 people in 24 hours, medics and security sources said yesterday, as pro-government forces pushed to oust rebels from a key stretch of coastline. Air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition and fighting near the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait killed at least 52 fighters among Shiite Huthi rebels and allied troops loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the sources said. Fourteen members of the pro-government forces were also killed.
Forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi launched a vast offensive on Jan 7 to retake the Dhubab district overlooking the Bab al-Mandab, a key maritime route connecting the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Coalition warplanes and Apache attack helicopters have been pounding rebels in support of pro-Hadi forces advancing towards the Red Sea city of Mokha, military sources said. By Sunday, loyalist forces were within 10 kilometers of Mokha, they said, but the offensive has been slowed by mines laid by rebels.
The rebels took their dead to a military hospital in Hodeida, a major western port city they control, a medical source said. The hospital received 14 dead on Saturday and 38 yesterday, as well as 55 wounded rebels, the source said. On the pro-government side, 14 soldiers were killed and 22 wounded, according to medics in the southern port city of Aden where Hadi’s government is based. The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 in support of the beleaguered president.
But despite its massively superior firepower, the rebels and their allies still control the capital Sanaa and much of the central and northern highlands, as well as the 450-kilometre Red Sea coast. United Nations peace envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed arrived in Sanaa yesterday for talks and to push a peace plan that would restore a ceasefire and lead to a political transition in the country. The plan would lead to a political transition under which Hadi’s powers would be significantly reduced.–AFP