Houthis retreat as Yemeni forces advance on Marib

However, the Houthis also planted landmines as they retreated, slowing the advance of pro-government forces.

Yemeni Brigadier General Murad Turaiq and Emirati soldiers eating lunch following heavy shelling by Houthi rebels in Marib province. Courtesy Mohammed Al Qalisi
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ADEN // Houthi rebels withdrew from several of their positions in Marib province on Thursday as Yemeni forces supported by soldiers from a Saudi-led coalition closed in on them.
Yemeni army Brigadier General Murad Turaiq said that pro-government forces, together with troops from the Popular Resistance and the coalition, had retaken rebel-held territories near Sirwah - about 40 kilometres west on the road to the capital, Sanaa.
"We have taken over new areas, such as Al Barik hill and Al Gis hill, and are now just 150 metres from the red hill," Brig Gen Turaiq told The National, describing the ongoing battle.
However, the Houthis also planted landmines as they retreated, slowing the advance of pro-government forces. Military officials said the insurgents were also firing mortar rounds at them.
Marib, which lies to the east of Sanaa, has been a vital staging ground for anti-Houthi forces in their drive to expel the rebels from the capital and restore the government of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.
The coalition has built up its forces in Marib for months, bringing in weaponry and personnel in preparation for a final push against the rebels after helping to liberate Aden and four other southern provinces since July.
Before the battle for Marib province began, the Iran-backed Houthis would shell positions in Marib city, said Sheikh Mursel Al Qabili, one of the leaders of the Murad tribe. Marib city remained under the control of government loyalists.
Now, however, the Houthis and their allies - renegade units of the Yemeni military loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh - have stopped targeting civilians after they were forced to retreat, Sheikh Al Qabili told The National.
"We can now trust that there will be no shelling of civilians as the Houthis withdraw from all the hills from which they used to attack civilians," Sheikh Al Qabili said.
He said that the fighting is now concentrated in areas where there are less civilians.
He also said that many of Marib's residents have joined the anti-Houthi forces, adding that they were prepared to join the advance on Sanaa.
Coalition troops and allied Yemeni forces will have to traverse rugged mountains as they push towards the capital, which fell into the hands of the Houthis last September.
It was an area that Emirati Brig Gen Ali Saif Al Kaabi likened to parts of Afghanistan, where UAE troops were deployed as part of the Nato-led mission.
Pro-government forces were also advancing towards the capital from the south.
Coalition air strikes continued to pound Houthi targets in Marib province on Thursday, killing more than 15 Houthis were killed, according to local sources in Marib.
Authorities say the coalition was targeting Houthi positions near the Marib dam.
The deputy governor of Marib, Abdo Rab Ali, said 80 per cent of the province is now controlled by pro-Hadi forces while the Houthis control the rest.
On the Sirwah front, 18 rebels were killed in fighting with coalition-backed loyalist forces.
Nearly 4,900 people have been killed and some 25,000 wounded in the conflict since late March, according to the United Nations.
* with additional reporting from Associated Press, Agence France-Presse