The Houthi commander leading the Yemeni rebels' assault in Dhalea was killed as pro-government forces recaptured large areas of the southern province, military officials said.
Yehya Al Rezami was among 80 Houthi fighters killed on Wednesday, Col Ahmed Qaid, commander of the Security Belt Forces in the province, told The National.Twelve rebels surrendered.
Al Rezami was from the Houthi stronghold of Saada province in northern Yemen and was killed in the Abara area on the Hajer front, said Col Qaid, whose troops are part of a pro-government alliance known as the Southern Joint Forces.
“Our forces drove the Houthi rebels from several key sites north of Qatabah and on the Hajer front west of the city," he said.
"We retook Kardah village, Al Wael mountain and all the hills around it, the village of Homar Al Sadah and the special forces military base in Qatabah, Al Kawz village and Al Karnaa area north of Qatabah.
"On the Hajer front, our forces along with the other southern divisions liberated 90 per cent of Al Abara area and Bajah village.”
The Southern Joint Forces are now focused on pushing the rebels out of the northern parts of Dhalea such as Damet, Al Hasha and Al Aoud after recapturing Qatabah city last week, said Capt Majed Al Shoaibi, spokesman for the Southern Joint Forces in the area.
“This was the second push after recapturing Qatabah last Friday," Capt Al Shoaibi said.
"Now a strategic military base is going to be set up in Qatabah to act as a central command for military operations against the Houthis."
The rebels retaliated on Wednesday by firing mortars and Katyusha rockets into populated areas.
More than 15 rockets fell in the Khoura area in Hajer, destroying several homes and forcing people to flee, residents said.
A child, 10, was reported killed in Shab Al Osood village when a Houthi shell landed near a family home.
The Arab Coalition supporting the government promised more support to the forces in Dhalea when Brig Omar Al Tunaiji, the coalition's western commander, met representatives of the Southern Joint Forces this week.
"Brig Al Tunaiji heard the details of military developments and assured the forces' representatives that the coalition stands ready to provide all needed support, and had ordered reinforcements from the Amalikah Brigades to boost the fronts in Dhalea," said Joint Forces spokesman Col Wathah Al Dubaish.
Meanwhile, residents of Hodeidah say the rebels are continuing to reinforce positions in the western port city despite seeming to comply with a ceasefire agreement by pulling out of the three main ports last week under UN supervision.
Col Al Dubaish said the government would stop taking part in the committee overseeing the ceasefire unless the UN let its representatives monitor the rebels' withdrawal.
The head of the UN observer mission, Gen Michael Lollesgaard, said the Houthis had withdrawn from Hodeidah, Ras Isa and Al Saleef ports.
But the government said the pullout was not monitored by its representatives, as agreed, and accused the rebels of deception.
They say those coastguard officers and police being handed control of the Hodeidah ports were Houthis in different shirts.
“The Houthi withdrawal means nothing for us," Col Al Dubaish said.
"We are going to stop dealing with Gen Lollesgaard because he violated all of the points agreed to with the government team on May 13 in Aden and legitimised the Houthi unilateral withdrawal, ignoring us and our requests."
Residents of Hodeidah said the Houthis continued entrenching their positions in many places this week.
"Earlier this week seven Ethiopians hired by the Houthis were killed in a landmine explosion in Al Saleh city as they were digging a new tunnel," a resident told The National.
The long-delayed Hodeidah ceasefire requires both sides to pull their forces out of the city, which is the main entry point for Yemen's food imports and humanitarian aid.