Yemeni army storms key Houthi district in rebel stronghold

Rebel leader Abdulmalik Al Houthi believed to be in hiding in Marran

Shiite Huthi rebels are seen during a gathering to mobilise more fighters to the battlefront to fight pro-government forces, in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on June 18, 2018. The UAE, a key player in the coalition battling Huthi rebels in Yemen, warned the insurgents to withdraw unconditionally from the flashpoint port city of Hodeida, after UN peace efforts fizzled. / AFP / ABDO HYDER
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Yemeni troops backed by the Arab Coalition have launched a military operation to capture Marran district of Saada province, where their leader Abdulmalik Al Houthi is believed to be in hiding.

A large number of troops stormed Marran on four fronts on Wednesday and captured several strategic sites after fierce battles, a military source in Saada told The National.

Abdulmalik Al Houthi is widely believed to be hiding in a cave in the mountainous district. A photo of him surrounded by guards in what appears to be Marran was widely circulated on Yemeni news sites last  month. The district is the leader's birthplace and where the Houthi movement originated.

Much of the modern weaponry the rebels looted from army bases after their uprising is also believed to be stored in Marran.

The military source said the operation in Marran aims to "cut the snake's head" in the stronghold of the Houthis.  Yemeni forces have already seized other areas of Saada such as Bakem, Al Malaheedh and Al Buka in recent months.

The latest offensive comes before a new UN-mediated attempt to find a political solution to Yemen's civil war, which began when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014. The Iran-backed rebels and the internationally recognised government of President Abdradu Mansur Hadi have agreed to attend the talks beginning in Geneva next month.

Meanwhile, residents of Al Tuhaiyta district in Hodeidah province said they were facing food shortages and high prices because of a siege imposed by the rebels after they were driven out of the area last month by government and coalition forces.

The rebels have blocked most of the main roads into the densely populated district, mined the smaller roads and posted snipers in the countryside around Al Tuhaiyta city, said Sameer Akhdhar, a resident.

"We are living very hard times in Al Tuhaiyta. We can't go to the public markets in neighbouring areas because we have only one route which is secured by the joint forces, which is to the north of the district," Mr Akhdhar told The National.

"Everything is expensive, the prices have been increased sharply, the food supplies are very low, and we struggle for days to get a few kilos of rice or flour," he said.

"The joint forces liberated large areas of the district and drove the Houthis into the surrounding areas, so they have been imposing strict siege around the district and cut all the roads that link Al Tuhaiyta with Zabeed and Al Suwaik, where residents go to shop for their basic needs at the public markets," said Sami Bari, an activist who provides updates on the situation on the ground in Hodeidah, including on social media.


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