ADEN // Eighteen fighters have been killed in 24 hours in intensified confrontations between Yemeni government forces and Houthi rebels on the south-western coast of the country, military officials and medical sources said on Wednesday.
Clashes have raged as government forces, backed by warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition, push to seize rebel positions east of the government-held Red Sea town of Mokha.
Medical sources in the rebel-controlled port city of Hodeidah said 15 insurgents had been killed in battles and coalition air strikes in the past 24 hours, while military sources in Aden, the government’s temporary base away from the rebel-controlled capital, Sanaa, said three soldiers had died in combat.
Forces loyal to president Abdrabu Mansour Hadi captured Mokha in February as part of a major continuing offensive that aims to drive rebels from the lengthy Red Sea coastline.
Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Al Assiri on Wednesday said current operations aim to clear the route east of Mokha towards the flashpoint city of Taez, where loyalists are surrounded by rebels. The Khalid bin Al Waleed military base is on the road between Mokha and Taez with a “strong presence” of Houthis and allied renegade troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
“It is a difficult area,” Gen Al Assiri said. However, Hodeidah was not a priority for the moment for Yemni forces advancing northwards, he added.
“Hodeidah is far. Not now,” he said. “We should cover our back. The priority is east of Mokha, then comes the north. It is not feasible to launch an offensive towards Hodeidah now,” he added.
Five Sudanese soldiers were killed in the same zone, known as Jabal Al Nar, fighting for the Saudi-led Arab coalition against the Shiite rebels in Yemen.
Sudan joined the Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia in 2015 after breaking decades-old ties with Tehran. The Sudanese military has largely refrained from offering details of its operations within the coalition or of casualties it has suffered in the conflict so far.
But in a rather rare announcement from Khartoum late on Tuesday, Brigadier Ahmed Kahlifa Al Shami of the Sudanese army said it had lost five troops in Yemen, including an officer, and 22 soldiers were wounded. Without offering details, he said Sudanese forces had completed their “first stage of duty” in Yemen and were now preparing to launch the second stage.
“Our troops in Yemen have captured all the areas targeted in the first stage, inflicted big losses on the enemy and are holding many prisoners of war,” Khalifa said.
The Saudi-led coalition also comprises the Gulf monarchies Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates along with Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan.
According to the UN, the fighting has killed more than 7,700 people, displaced more than three million people, and more than two thirds of Yemen’s population of around 18.8 million people need aid.
Some 7.3 million people are estimated to be close to starvation and 462,000 children suffer from serious malnutrition. Without $2.1 billion in international aid, the UN warns that Yemen will suffer a famine in 2017
* Agence France-Presse