Yemeni loyalist forces only 4km from breaking Taez siege

Pro-government fighters are advancing on the rebel-encircled city.

A damaged building is pictured in the war-torn southwestern city of Taiz, Yemen August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Anees Mahyoub
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ADEN // Yemeni pro-government forces were only four kilometres away from breaking the rebels’ siege on the city of Taez on Thursday, said a resistance leader.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a leader of the popular resistance movement in Taez told The National: "We launched this military operation to break the siege on the city, and we need only to advance around four kilometres to do it. However there are a lot of landmines planted in these four kilometres, but we will advance soon."

He said air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis had been vital in helping fighters on the ground to advance.

The Shiite Houthis, who are backed by Iran, have held Taez under siege for a year. Loyalist forces backed by the coalition, which includes UAE forces, succeeded in breaking the Houthi siege in March but only briefly.

The source said the offensive against the Houthis around Taez was timed to coincide with the anniversary a year ago of the liberation of some central districts of the city. Despite the liberation of these areas, however, the rebels kept control of all roads into Taez.

“The fighters of the resistance and the Yemeni army have made advances on the eastern front, and recaptured the area surrounding [the] Hassanat school,” he said. “A sniper positioned in a house near the school has also been killed, and we have fired on a tank near to the republican palace, which is one of the Houthis’ headquarters in the city. But we are focusing on the western front to break the siege.”

Pro-government forces had already taken back control of several areas on the western front including the districts of Al Miqhayah, Al Dhiab hills, Al Saleh gardens, and Ghorab hill, in the western part of Taez but clashes were still continuing, the source added.

He confirmed that about 40 Houthis had been killed and dozens wounded – far more than the casualties suffered by pro-government forces, although he declined to specify numbers. Other sources said five government soldiers had been killed. Pro-government activist Abdel Majid Al Dhababi confirmed troops had made progress after months of trying to break the siege of Taez. But the main road leading to Aden was still unsafe, which prevented civilians from escaping south, he added.

Violence also rocked the southern province of Abyan on Thursday where an Al Qaeda suicide car bomber killed four Yemeni soldiers and wounded four others, according to military officials.

The bomber rammed his car into two military vehicles parked on a road linking the towns of Loder and Moudia, one military official said.

The attack comes after government forces launched an anti-extremist operation in Abyan and follows the recapture of both towns from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

foreign.desk@thenational.ae