DUBAI (Reuters) – A coalition led by Saudi backed by the West won its first big gains in Yemen since former President Ali Abdullah Saleh died on Monday when local fighters captured an area on the Red Sea coast of the rebels Houthi, residents said Thursday.
Saleh, who had made a common cause with the Houthis after they captured the capital Sanaa in 2014, switched sides in an announcement last week that plunged the country into turmoil.
Residents said that Yemeni combatants from the south and local allied forces captured the Al-Khoukha district located about 350 km southwest of Sanaa after heavy fighting on Wednesday night that also involved coalition forces .
Houthi forces control Sanaa and much of the rest of the impoverished country, where three years of war have killed more than 1
Saleh had helped the Houthis gain control of Sanaa and much of the north and their decision to leave had important implications on the battlefield.
The Houthis crushed a Saleh uprising in the capital and shot him dead in an attack on his convoy on December 4.
Saleh's body remained in a military hospital in Sanaa while the Houthis – who control the capital – and members of his party discussed plans for burial, sources close to the family said.
The sources said that the Houthis had demanded that Saleh's body be buried in a family ceremony in his hometown of Sanhan, south of Sanaa, while the family insisted that the Houthis surrender the body without any condition.
The Houthis said they had found deposits of gold and cash in the Saleh residence, which had been exceeded and confiscated before his death on Monday, and confiscated it for the benefit of the public treasury. The group did not give details about the amount and the report could not be verified independently.
Researchers appointed by the UN said in 2015 that Saleh was suspected of having corruptly accumulated up to $ 60 billion, equivalent to Yemen's annual GDP, during his 33 years in office.
The coalition led by Saudi Arabia backed by the USA. UU And the United Kingdom has intensified air strikes against Yemen since Saleh's death as Houthi forces have tightened their control over the capital.
Residents said fighters known as the Resistance of the South, along with other local forces and backed by advisers to the UAE coalition, launched attacks on al-Khoukha on Wednesday.
At least 25 people on both sides were killed before Yemeni fighters captured the city of al-Khoukha and a small fishing port.
A spokesman for the Houthi movement could not be contacted immediately for comment.
The Saba news agency, managed by Houthi, has reported heavy coalition airstrikes in Sanaa and Saada province in northern Yemen, but did not mention any ground offensive in the Al-Khoukha area.
Saba reported that at least seven members of the same family were killed in an air strike at their home in the district of Nihem, outside Sanaa, including three children. It was not possible to independently verify the report.
An air strike by the coalition led by Saudi Arabia in al-Khoukha in March killed at least 22 civilians.
When Saleh switched sides, he announced that he was ready to end a nearly three-year war, widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, if the Saudi-led coalition agreed to stop the attacks on the country. . .
Report of Sami Aboudi; Edition by Richard Balmforth