Yemeni forces make gains in Houthis' northern stronghold

Eight rebels killed and armaments seized as troops advance in Al Boqaa area of Saada province

TOPSHOT - Supporters of the Huthi movement attend the funeral of those killed during recent clashes between Huthi rebel fighters and loyalists of Yemen's late ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, in the capital Sanaa on December 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS
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Yemeni government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition have made inroads into the Houthis' northern stronghold , building on a key victory earlier on Thursday against the Iran-backed rebels.

The army's Border Guards and Al Fatah brigades captured advanced positions in Al Boqaa area of Saada province, killing eight rebel fighters and capturing 15 others, the state news agency Wam reported, citing a coalition source.

Backed by coalition aircraft, the army captured a number of strategic positions from the Houthis, including Tiba Al Ism Camp, and secured the Al Boqaa-Al Yatma road, the source said.

The troops also seized heavy, medium and light ammunition, including land mines, communication devices and military documents from the rebels.

It was the second major gain for government forces since the Houthis killed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh on Monday. Saleh, who had made common cause with the Houthis after they captured the capital Sanaa in 2014, switched sides in an announcement last week that triggered heavy fighting between his forces and their former rebel allies.

Earlier on Thursday, pro-government and coalition forces captured Al Khoukha district in the coastal province of Hodeidah after heavy overnight fighting. The area lies between the government-held Mokha port and rebel-held Hodeidah port to the north along Yemen's Red Sea coast.

The victory marks a key advance for government forces in their campaign to retake Hodeidah port, which the coalition accuses the Houthis of using to smuggle in weapons.