Yemen’s southern forces drive Houthis out of strategic area, officials report

Al Fakher is a rich agricultural district in south Yemen known for coffee beans and qat trees

Fighters with Yemen's Security Belt Force dominated by members of the the Southern Transitional Council (STC) seeking independence for southern Yemen, are seen in a reinforcements convoy heading from the southern city of Aden to Abyan province on November 26, 2019, amid tensions with the forces of Saudi-backed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. - Saudi Arabia brokered on November 5 a power sharing agreement between Yemen's internationally recognised government and southern separatists of the STC, in a bid to end infighting that had distracted the Riyadh-led coalition from its battle against the Iran-backed Huthi rebels. (Photo by Saleh Al-OBEIDI / AFP)
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Forces aligned with Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council drove Houthi rebels out of the strategic Al Fakher region to deprive them of an essential source of revenue, officials and residents said.

Al Fakher, a rich agricultural district known for its coffee beans and qat trees, links the southern province of Dhalea with Ibb to its north-west.

The southern forces who fight for the internationally recognised government, killed more than 26 rebels in heavy clashes that started on Saturday and lasted 12 hours, Capt Mohammed Al Naqeeb, spokesman for the STC forces, told The National.

"Early on Saturday, our forces launched a large-scale attack from two fronts targeting Houthi forces in Al Fakher and in the Bab Ghalak mountainous area in the Dhalea province," Capt Al Naqeeb said.

The STC troops seized full control over Al Fakher, and key sites to its north, he said.

Capt Al Naqeeb said that included a strategic junction that brings them closer to controlling a road the Houthis use to bring in reinforcements from Ibb.

The Iran-backed rebels suffered heavy losses in the clashes.

"Our forces killed and arrested dozens of the Houthi rebels, among them field commanders, and destroyed several military vehicles including armoured vehicles," Capt Fuad Jubari, spokesman of the Dhalea Military area, told The National.

Al Fakher has a popular market that attracts thousands of people from nearby provinces to sell their agricultural crops and buy coffee and qat leaves.

Qat is a stimulant popular with most Yemeni men and some women, who chew it for hours throughout the day. The leaves can cause excitement, euphoria and loss of appetite.

The Houthis imposed high taxes on the market's farmers and merchants, say local residents, who breathed a sigh of relief as the pro-government forces drove the Houthi rebels out.

"We celebrated with fireworks after the liberation of our area yesterday," farmer Murad Obaid told The National.

"It was a big victory for us because the Houthi rebels have been wreaking havoc in our land.

"They repeatedly destroyed and burnt farms of residents who refused to pay them the taxes they imposed since they controlled the area in 2019."

The Houthis used to raid farms and shops asking for large sums of money to fund the war, and many farmers were jailed because they refused, Mr Obaid said.