ADEN/SANAA (Reuters) - Southern Yemeni fighters backed by a Saudi-led air coalition took more territory from Houthi militiamen on Friday, expanding their control around the port city of Aden, sources in the southern force said.
The Southern Resistance retook much of Aden this month, supported by air strikes waged since late March by Saudi Arabia and its regional allies who are trying to end Houthi control over much of the country and return president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from exile.
The resistance, an alliance of southern groups including secessionists seeking an independent south Yemen and army units loyal to Hadi, won full control of Houta town, capital of Lahej province north of Aden, in heavy clashes, the sources said.
They reported 14 Houthis were killed and 40 captured.
Southern fighters and pro-Hadi army units also drove Houthi fighters from Lowdar town in southern Abyan province and captured a number of Houthi fighters, they said.
In a separate incident, nine soldiers were killed and 30 wounded in a car bombing at an army base by suspected Islamist militants in southern Hadramout province, local officials said.
Yemen’s war is rooted in political strains that spread across the Arabian Peninsula country last year, when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa and pushed aside Hadi, an ally of the United States and Saudi Arabia, who fled to Riyadh.
The Houthis, who are from Yemen’s far north and belong to the Zaydi sect of Shi‘ite Islam, later took more territory south and east of the capital, saying they were winning a revolution against Sunni militants and corrupt officials
The coalition said on Thursday said it aimed first to help bring Yemen’s government back from exile to Aden and then return it to Sanaa if possible via peace talks with the Houthis.
But if the Iranian-allied Houthis did not eventually agree to quit Sanaa, the government would have the right to “get them out” by force, coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said in an interview with Reuters.
Senior members of Yemen’s administration in exile flew to Aden on July 16 to make preparations for the government’s return there, four months after it was pushed out by Houthi forces.
Asseri said the Houthis ought to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls for the Zaydi Shi‘ite movement to withdraw from cities under their control, return seized arms and allow Hadi to return from his Riyadh exile.
The Houthis have rejected that resolution.
After months of conflict much of the country is suffering severe shortages of fuel, water, food and medicine.
U.N. aid chief Stephen O‘Brien on July 28 said health facilities in Yemen reported more than 4,000 people had been killed and some 19,800 wounded in the war.
Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashef and Mohammed Ghobari, Writing by Reem Shamseddine and William Macleran, Editing by Dominic Evans