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.
Local fighters loyal to Saleh, who was assassinated by the Houthis aligned with Iran after changing sides in the civil war, took the district of Al-Khoukha about 350 km southwest of the capital, Sanaa, after forts Fighting on Wednesday night that also involved the coalition forces.
Houthi forces control Sanaa and much of the rest of the impoverished country, where three years of war have killed more than 10,000 people and brought it to the brink of famine.
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.
The Saudi-led coalition backed by the United States and the United Kingdom has intensified air strikes against Yemen since then as Houthi forces have tightened their control over the capital.
Residents said that Saleh's murder spurred opposition to the Houthis and fighters known as the Resistance of the South, along with other local militias and backed by advisers to the UAE coalition, launched attacks against the Houthis. Khoukha on Wednesday.
At least 25 people from both sides died in the fighting 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 news agency Saba, led by Houthi, has reported heavy air strikes by the coalition 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 died in an air strike at their home in Nihem district, 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; Richard Balmforth edition