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Pro-government forces advance on Yemen's Taiz

Date of publication: 23 November, 2015

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Pro-government forces in Yemen have made significant advances around Taiz after taking control of strategic highlands and clearing thousands of mines on the road that links Aden with the city.
Pro-government forces in Yemen, backed by air and ground support from the Saudi-led coalition, have made significant advances in their operations to recapture the province of Taiz after clearing and destroying a large quantity of land mines.

Forces loyal to President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi and allied Popular Resistance fighters took full control of the south-western and south-eastern areas of Taiz Province on Sunday and advanced towards Rahida, the province's second-largest city, on the main road linking the city of Aden with Taiz.

On Monday, coalition air raids targeted different areas in Rahida, as loyalist forces continued to make advances on the road leading to Taiz.

A pro-government field commander, Fouad al-Shaddadi, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the Army and resistance forces have captured the highlands that "surround three governorates in southern Taiz," adding that the Houthi militia and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh are retreating in these areas after they became exposed to loyalists fire.

A source in Rahida who is in contact with the Yemeni military told al-Araby that loyalists were preparing for an incursion deep into the city "in the next two days after specialised forces managed to clear nearly eight thousand mines that the militias had planted between ash-Sharija and Rahida, according to military sources."
Army and resistance forces have captured the highlands that surround three governorates in southern Taiz
- Yemeni pro-government field commander

A Yemeni commander confirmed that mines were hampering the progress of government forces and had caused casualties among fighters, without providing any figures.

Loyalist forces were backed by significant reinforcements from the Saudi-led coalition which intervened in March in support of President Hadi.

Breaking the siege of Taiz is seen as crucial for the recapture of other central provinces and for opening the way to the rebel-held capital Sanaa farther north.

It is also important for securing the south, where loyalists have retaken five provinces from the rebels since July, including Aden, where Hadi has set up base.

Diplomatically, efforts were continuing to prepare for UN-sponsored peace talks expected to take place this month in Geneva.

The rebel-controlled sabanews.net reported that a rebel delegation travelled to neutral Oman late on Saturday to meet with the UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who visited key Houthi-backer Iran in recent days.

The talks in Muscat between the rebels and the UN envoy should focus on the "agenda of the dialogue" in Geneva, said Abd al-Malek al-Mikhlafi, who will head the government's delegation to Switzerland.

He accused the Houthis of "military escalation" in Taiz and of "buying time" ahead of the talks.

"They have not yet submitted the names of their negotiators," Mikhlafi told AFP.

The Geneva talks should focus on "finding a mechanism to apply UN Security Council Resolution 2216" which calls for a negotiated withdrawal by the rebels from key cities and a surrender of all heavy weapons to the state, Mikhlafi said.

The United Nations says more than 5,700 people have been killed since the Saudi-led intervention began in March, nearly half of them civilians.

UN efforts have repeatedly failed to resolve the conflict and no date has yet been set for this month's awaited talks.

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