Heavy fighting has raged between forces of Yemen’s internationally recognised government and Houthi rebels in central Bayda province but pro-government forces have made rapid gains.
Government forces and allied tribesmen, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, reclaimed large swathes of territory in the province, according to Moammar Al Iryani, Yemen's information minister.
“The joint forces have recaptured districts of Al Zahir, Al Sawmaa, in addition to parts of Dhi Naem district in the south-east of Al Bayda pressing westward towards the centre of the province amid a dramatic collapse in the ranks of the Houthi rebels,” Mustafa Al Baydani, the spokesperson of the popular resistance in Al Bayda told The National on Tuesday.
“Dozens of Houthi fighters were killed in the clashes which intensified since Sunday,” Mr Al Baydani said, adding that dozens of the Houthi fighters were also arrested including many of those who were injured amid the clashes.
Houthi officials said the rebels suffered heavy losses in the fighting that raged at the weekend and sent reinforcements to the province to repel government attacks.
Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, when the Iranian-backed Houthis swept across much of the north and seized the capital, Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognised government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year at the request of the internationally recognised government.
Amer Al Homaiqani, a spokesman for tribesmen fighting alongside government forces, said they took control of the district of Zahir and progressed westward to the provincial capital of Bayda.
He posted videos on social media purportedly showing armoured vehicles and other military equipment he says were taken from Houthis who fled their fortified positions.
The media centre of Yemen’s army said they also retook several villages in Bayda’s eastern district of Sawmaa.
“Our forces scored significant progress in the south-east territory, driving the Houthi rebels out of strategic areas including Al Zahir city and Al Sawmaa,” Abdulaziz Al Homaikani, the tribal leader of the public resistance in Al Bayda, told The National.
“We are 12Km from the centre of the province and will keep the progress from the south-east territory to take control over the centre of the province — then the head of the snake will be cut,” Mr Al Homaikani said.
Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed said a military operation began to “liberate” Bayda from the Iran-backed Houthis.
Fighting in Bayda came as the Houthis attempt to break through government defences in the strategic city of Marib. The rebels have been attempting since February to capture it from the internationally recognised government, which would complete their control over the northern part of Yemen.
However, they have not made substantial progress and have suffered heavy losses amid stiff resistance from government forces aided by the Saudi-led coalition supporting them.
Following the rapid progress made by the tribes and Al Amalika troops in southeastern Al Bayda, popular celebrations took place in the reclaimed areas on Monday.
A video circulated on social media showed women ululating as they welcomed the pro-government troops at the centre of Al Zaher city on Monday evening.
Separately, in the southern province of Abyan, an explosion killed three people and wounded 22 others in a military camp on Sunday, according to Defence Minister Mohammed Al Maqdishi.
It was not clear what caused the blast, but Mr Al Maqdishi accused the Houthis of firing a missile that hit a mosque at the camp. The rebels did not claim the attack.
The conflict in Yemen has killed more than 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The UN children agency said just over two million children are out of school as poverty, conflict and lack of opportunities disrupt their education. That's double the number of out-of-school children in 2015, Unicef said.
The agency said boys and girls are vulnerable to being coerced into child labour or recruited into the fighting. More than 3,600 children in Yemen were recruited in the past six years, it said.
“The conflict has a staggering impact on every aspect of children’s lives, yet access to education provides a sense of normality for children in even the most desperate contexts and protects them from multiple forms of exploitation,” said Philippe Duamelle, Unicef representative to Yemen. — Additional reporting by agencies