Cairo: Yemeni government forces have retaken control of most parts of a western area, regarded as the gateway to the Red Sea city of Hodeida, military sources said on Sunday.
The breakthrough has come after dozens of Iran-allied Al Houthi militants surrendered and others fled from the district of Al Durayhimi, south of Hodeida, Al Arabiya reported.
Days after the army troops tightened their siege of the district, Al Durayhimi institutions, including the local council, the health care centre and police station have been purged of Al Houthis, the report said.
In June, an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, unleashed an onslaught to liberate Hodeida, which has been under Al Houthis’ control since October 2014.
Government loyalists, supported by a coalition air cover, have since made territorial gains in the region, including recapture of the international Hodeida airport. Al Durayhimi is located about 20 kilometres south of the airport.
The battle over Hodeida is the biggest in Yemen’s war of nearly four years.
Hodeida is strategically important because of its harbour, which is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, as most of the commercial imports and relief supplies enter through it to the country.
The coalition accuses Al Houthis of taking advantage of their control of the harbour to obtain weapons from their Iranian patrons as well as confiscate aid intended for Yemenis in order to sustain their war efforts.
The offensive for Hodeida is part for a multi-front campaign targeting other rebel-controlled territory in Yemen.
The coalition jets had destroyed a surface-to-air SAM missile launch system in Al Houthi-controlled capital of Sana’a, the alliance said.
“The haphazard use of air defence systems threatens air traffic and relief works,” the coalition added in a statement, vowing to stop “terrorist” groups from having access to such jeopardising capabilities.
Last month, Al Houthis attacked two Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea, prompting the kingdom to briefly halt its crude exports through the waterway.
The coalition has repeatedly accused Iran and its Lebanese militant proxy Hezbollah of militarily supporting Al Houthis.
The Yemeni government Sunday condemned a recent meeting between an Al Houthi delegation and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. The Yemeni embassy in Washington said in a tweet that the meeting “is yet another proof added to the overwhelming evidence” of the destabilising role of Hezbollah in Yemen and its support to Al Houthis.
The meeting came two weeks before a new round of UN-sponsored talks in Geneva aimed at restarting Yemen’s long-stalled peace process.