President’s Troops Partially Break Siege of Yemen’s Third City

Pro-government fighters open fire into the air to celebrate after they took the Bir Basha neighborhood from Houthi fighters in Yemen's southwestern city of Taiz March 11, 2016. REUTERS/Anees Mahyoub

ADEN, March 12 – Troops loyal to Yemen’s president have captured the western entrance to the strategic city of Taiz, partially breaking a siege by Houthi fighters allied with Iran, medical and military sources said on Saturday.

At least 48 people have been killed in heavy clashes in Yemen’s third biggest city, the medics and local fighters said, and at least 120 people have been wounded. Witnesses said there were bodies scattered in the streets.

Supporters of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, have been trying for months to lift the siege of the southwestern city and open up key supply routes.

The struggle is part of coalition efforts since March last year to roll back Houthi gains and restore Hadi, who is currently in Saudi Arabia, to power. The war has devastated the country, killed more than 6,000 people and displaced millions.

The reported capture of the western entrance to Taiz, where nearly half of the 250,000 residents had been trapped since May, was hailed by the government-run news agency as a major breakthrough. It said Hadi and his deputy, Khaled Bahah, had telephoned the local military commander to congratulate him on the victory.

Meanwhile, another news agency controlled by Houthis, said fighters from the group killed 27 Hadi supporters.

Bahah, who is also the prime minister, told a news conference in the southern port city of Aden that the Yemeni government was preparing an aid convoy to Taiz to leave soon but gave no further details.

Bahah told journalists that the government had prepared 1,000 men to take charge of security in Taiz immediately to avoid a repetition of the lawlessness and chaos that happened in Aden after government forces captured the city from the Houthis in July last year.

Aden, where the Yemeni government is currently based, has been gripped by bomb and gun attacks targeting senior government officials and security personnel since last year.

The United Nations had accused the Houthis of obstructing the delivery of humanitarian supplies to civilians in Taiz, saying residents had been living under “virtual siege”.

The Houthis and troops loyal to their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, remain entrenched in much of the northern half of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa. Islamist militants have exploited the chaos to widen their influence.

On Wednesday the Saudi-led coalition said it had exchanged prisoners with its Houthi opponents, and welcomed a pause in combat on the border. A delegation from the Houthi group is currently in Saudi Arabia, in what two officials said was an attempt to end the year-old war.

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