AL-MUKALLA: Heavy fighting between Yemeni government forces and the Iran-backed Houthis broke out on Wednesday in the city of Taiz after the militia bombarded and attacked a strategic hilltop military base, local army officials said.
Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a Yemeni military official in Taiz, told Arab News that the Houthis shelled an air defense military base in northwest Taiz on Wednesday morning before sending ground troops to attack the base.
It sparked heavy fighting with government troops, and explosions rocked different neighborhoods.
“Army soldiers pushed back the Houthis and exchanged machine gun fire, forcing them to leave,” Al-Baher said.
The Houthis have been attacking the vital Air Defense Military Base for some time in an attempt to seize control of it, which would give them fire control over several areas of the densely populated city and allow them to completely tighten their siege of Taiz by closing a route that connects the city to southern towns.
“The Air Defense Military Base is a sprawling military complex that stretches across numerous hills and was developed by China in the 1970s,” Al-Baher said. “The Houthis would fully seize control of the northwestern regions of Taiz if they gained control of the base. They would thus use light weaponry to block the lone route connecting the city to the outside world.”
For years, the Houthis have bombed civilian districts and struck military sites in Taiz in an attempt to overcome government army fortifications that have prevented them from taking control of the city’s downtown.
The Houthis have not ceased attacking the city even during the UN-brokered truce that went into force on April 2.
International mediators have been unable to persuade the Houthis to lift their siege of Taiz by opening at least one key road into and out of the city, as well as to adhere to the terms of the truce, which demand de-escalation.
The latest violence in Taiz comes as local health officials in the city said on Wednesday that a dengue outbreak has killed 22 people since the beginning of this year, and 14,000 more are suffering the illness amid chronic medical supply shortages.
Ahmed Mansour, a health official, told Arab News that the outbreak has spread throughout the city, and people have flooded the understaffed and underequipped medical institutions.
Yemeni officials issued an urgent appeal to government agencies and foreign relief groups for assistance in treating the patients and eliminating mosquito breeding sites.
“The sickness is spreading at an alarming rate throughout the districts, as well as (heavily populated) and impoverished communities. We lack the resources to cope with the outbreak,” Mansour said.
The Houthi siege of Taiz, torrential downpours and inadequate assistance from the Yemeni government and foreign organizations are blamed for the development of the disease.
“The Houthi siege of Taiz is the primary cause of the outbreak’s worsening. We require fever-reducing medications, intravenous fluids and platelet transfusions,” Mansour said.
Residents of Taiz have long complained that the Houthi blockade has forced them to travel on hazardous, steep routes to get in and out of the city or to transport essential supplies.