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Saleh-Houthi forces take Yemeni provincial capital despite airstrikes

Yemenis queue for fuel in Ibb [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 8 April, 2015

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Fighting continues as Houthi rebels press further into Aden and spread east, but two weeks of Saudi-led air raids have allowed isolated counter-attacks.

Yemeni military forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, as well as allied Houthi militiamen, entered Ataq, the capital of Yemen's southern Shabwa province on Thursday, despite the continuation of Saudi-led airstrikes against the rebels.

Local government sources said Saleh-Houthi forces seized government and police installations after their Muhra military base outside Ataq was targeted by the coalition airstrikes. The move sees the rebels spreading east, helped by some local tribes led by Hasan Banan.

Hundreds of armed men from other local tribes have gathered to fight the rebel forces back, tribal sources told AFP.

The Houthis, who declared a new government in February after taking over the capital, Sanaa, succeeded in pressing further into Aden, Yemen's second city, on Wednesday.

A total of 22 people were killed and over 70 injured, mostly civilians, in tank and mortar shelling of residential areas Mualla and Crater. Clashes between local militias, known as "popular committees" and Houthis also left several fighters dead.

Saudi-led airstrikes, which are entering their third week, also targeted Yemen's Defence Ministry in Sanaa. Witnesses said there were three explosions as warplanes hit the building, and thick smoke billowed over the area.

Counter-attack

The coalition air raids have been able to stop the rebels' advance in some cases. Al-Araby al-Jadeed's Faris al Jalal spoke to sources in the central Idd Taiz provinces, who said Hadi loyalists there ambushed Houthis and their allies several times on Wednesday, destroying military equipment and a large number of armoured vehicles and tanks, and injuring many soldiers.

In the city of al-Daleh, Hadi allies attacked a Houthi position, killing six militants, according to Southern Movement chief Nasser al-Shuaibi, while coalition air raids hit the army's Brigade 33, which is loyal to Saleh.

Houthi rebels and Brigade 33 forces withdrew from al-Daleh on Wednesday afternoon, a source in al-Daleh's "popular resistance" told al-Araby al-Jadeed. They headed to Ibb to confront anti-Houthi tribes in al-Qafr, and were joined by more rebel militia.

Fourteen Houthis were also killed in eight dawn air raids by the coalition on their positions near Dar Saad in the south, according to an AFP source in the loyalist army.

In Taiz, heavy shelling targetted rebels near the northern parts of the city. A Yemeni army source said that the air raids on Wednesday night were concentrated and accurate, and aimed at the Brigade 22 base, a main supply source for Houthi rebels.

UN chief urges talks

Meanwhile, UN chief Ban Ki-Moon urged a return to political talks. The secretary-general spoke ahead of this weekend's visit to Qatar, which is likely to be dominated by the issue of Yemen's escalating conflict.

"There needs to be a return to political negotiations," Ban told reports at the UN headquarters. "The last thing the region and our world need is more of the chaos and crimes we have seen in Libya and Syria."

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