AL-MUKALLA: Heavy fighting broke out on Thursday outside the Houthi-held town of Hareb in Yemen’s central province of Marib as government troops sought to seize control of the strategic area, military officials said.
Building on their latest military gains in neighboring Shabwa province, troops from Yemen’s army and the Giants Brigades rolled into Hareb district, south of Marib, on Tuesday, as the Iran-backed Houthis retreated to the district’s center.
Abdu Abdullah Majili, a Yemeni army spokesperson, told Arab News that government troops engaged in heavy fighting with the Houthis on the edges of Hareb town as some pockets of fighters refused to surrender or retreat.
“Hareb will be seized back from the Houthi militia soon,” he said.
Yemeni army commanders and officials said government forces took the initiative in the fighting in Marib after the redeployment of Giants Brigades troops and due to intensive and more precise airstrikes by Arab coalition warplanes.
The coalition said in a statement on Thursday that it killed more than 340 Houthis and destroyed 31 of their vehicles in Marib and Shabwa during 53 airstrikes over the past 24 hours. The strikes also destroyed a military helicopter that bombed government troops in Marib.
Hareb’s fall would be another blow to the Houthis who have suffered heavy setbacks since the beginning of the year when the Giants Brigades mounted an offensive in Shabwa.
The gains made by government forces south of Marib have alleviated the military pressure on troops outside the strategic city who have been under attack from Houthi rebels since early last year.
On Monday, the Houthis’ military spokesperson, Yahya Saree, claimed that their forces pushed back government troop attacks in Shabwa and Marib.
Meanwhile, the Saudi Project for Landmine Clearance (Masam) said on Thursday that two of its Yemeni experts were killed while defusing landmines planted by the Houthis in the Hays district of Hodeidah.
The Saudi-funded program said the head of Team 27, Ali Hadi, and another member of the same team, Sha’afel Abdullah, were killed while “carrying out their humanitarian duty.”
Several Yemeni civilians have been killed this year after driving over landmines in liberated areas of Marib and Shabwa. The deaths prompted officials to urge people to avoid using unpaved roads until the mines have been cleared.
Masam believes the Houthis have planted more than 1 million landmines since the start of the war.