Fighters under the command of Yemen's Southern Transitional Council inflicted "big losses" on the Iran-backed Houthi rebels while recapturing more areas of the oil-rich Shabwa province on Wednesday, a spokesman said.
Al Amalika Southern Forces, backed by the Arab coalition supporting the government, regained control of a military base and other areas between Usaylan and Bayhan districts in Shabwa, Aseel Al Sakladi, the head of Al Amalika media centre, told The National.
“On Wednesday, our forces advanced in territory held by the Houthi rebels in western Shabwa, they recaptured the Infantry Brigade 163 base and took full control over Al Suleim and Al Safra areas, killing more than 40 rebels and seizing weapons and military equipment,“ Mr Al Sakladi said.
On Tuesday, Al Amalika fighters seized Al Noqub city in Usaylan and heavily shelled Houthi positions to the west, paving the way for troops to advance towards Bayhan district and the neighbouring rebel-held province of Al Bayda.
“The Houthi militia have been suffering big losses in the recent battles in Shabwa," Mr Al Sakladi said. The rebels left behind dozens of slain comrades in Al Noqub, he said.
The Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia carried out at least 36 air strikes on the rebels in western Shabwa on Wednesday, including one that killed the Houthi deputy governor of Shabwa, Ahmed Al Hamza, as he fled the area with other high-ranking rebels, residents of Bayhan told The National.
They said the Houthi-appointed governors of Lahj province, Ahmed Jareeb, and of Al Mahrah province, Al Qatabi Al Faraji, were injured in the strike.
“A precise air strike struck their convoy on Al Kanda road as they were heading towards Sanaa,“ a resident said.
He said the rebels had begun abandoning their positions in Bayhan, fearing more strikes by coalition warplanes.
“They left the military base of the 19th Brigade in the centre of Bayhan. People were seen looting food supplies left behind by the Houthis.“
Another resident of Bayhan, Adeeb Al Abed, said the rebels on Tuesday rounded up dozens of civilians to use as hostages in any prisoner swap with the southern forces.
“They abducted passers-by from the roads and streets in Bayhan city without giving any reason, but we know that they took these people just to trade them for rebels captured by Al Amalika in Usaylan,” he said.
The territory retaken by the southern forces in Shabwa this week is a significant gain in the war against the Iran-backed rebels, who hold much of Yemen's north. It prevents the Houthis from controlling oil fields in Shabwa while setting the stage for military operations against the rebels in Al Bayda and in Marib, the province to the north where the rebels are laying siege to the government's last major northern stronghold.
Analysts say the victories could force the Houthis to return to UN-mediated talks to end the war, which began in late 2014 when the rebels overran the capital, Sanaa, and forced the internationally recognised government to flee.