ALEXANDRIA: Yemeni troops and local tribesmen, backed by Arab coalition air support, seized a key area in the central province of Al-Bayda and advanced on the provincial capital after Houthi fighters fled the battlefield, a Yemen army spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Maj. Gen. Abdul Abdullah Majili told reporters in the central city of Marib that the Houthis suffered heavy setbacks in Al-Bayda province with rebel fighters abandoning their positions and fleeing to neighboring Sanaa and Dhamar.
Majili said that government troops seized control of Al-Zaher district and surrounding areas, and battled militia fighters close to Al-Bayda city, the province’s capital.
Dozens of Houthis were killed, and troops retrieved tanks and military vehicles, he added.
“The army and resistance forces managed to liberate, take control and secure the center of the district of Al-Zaher, as well as the areas of Al-Khulwa and Al-Rawda, and advance toward the city of Al-Bayda,” Majili said.
Yemen’s government on Saturday launched a military offensive to seize control of Al-Bayda after regional and international mediators failed to convince the Houthis to accept a UN-brokered peace initiative.
Marching from neighboring Marib and Abyan, as well as government-controlled areas in the province, troops and tribesmen liberated several military locations and villages in the past three days.
Amateur videos circulating on social media showed what appeared to be fighters and displaced people cheerfully firing their weapons after returning to their homes for the first time since 2015 when the province fell to the Houthis early in their advance across Yemen.
Videos also showed local fighters driving armed vehicles, and retrieving ammunition and rockets abandoned by the Houthis.
Bodies of slain militia fighters were seen scattered across the battlefields.
For the first time in years, different military units, including southern Yemen separatists, took part in the military operations in Al-Bayda.
The Giant Brigade, a major military unit battling the Houthis on the country’s western coast, said on Monday that it reinforced government troops in Al-Bayda with fighters and military equipment.
Tribesmen from neighboring provinces also joined the fighting along with anti-Houthi forces.
Al-Bayda is close to Sanaa, Ibb and Thamar, and might allow government troops to open a new front in Sanaa province.
“Al-Bayda is southeast of the capital Sanaa, and is the shortest and easiest way to reach the city,” Col. Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a Yemeni military official, said.
Military gains in the province will deplete Houthi strength and give government troops a morale boost, he added.
Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst and non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute, said that the Al-Bayda offensive will relieve pressure on government troops battling Houthis in Marib and push the militia into accepting peace proposals.
“This offensive will force the Houthis to redeploy some of their forces to defend Al-Bayda. Retaking Al-Bayda will weaken them militarily, which might force them to rethink their maximalist position in the negotiations,” she said.