Sanaa: Yemen’s army backed by the Saudi-led coalition forces has begun a large-scale offensive in Abs district, Hajjah province, against the Houthi rebels.
The offensive comes after years of a political and military stalemate during the six years of deadly civil war, Xinhua news agency reported.
Houthi fighters responded with heavy gunfire and artillery shelling from sandy hills and green farms, showing fierce resistance.
Abs is a few miles away north of the strategic Red Sea province of Hodeidah, which is also under Houthi control.
The civil war erupted in late 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthis seized control of much of the country’s north and forced the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi out of the capital Sanaa.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, displaced nearly 4 million, and pushed the country to the brink of famine.
Losing Abs would be a major blow to the Houthi rebels.
“The enemy (Houthi) was preparing to attack the army’s positions in the area, but the soldiers were on the lookout,” Taha al-Omari, commander of the 105th Brigade of the Fifth Military Region, told Xinhua Sunday.
“Today, the Fifth Military Region, with its all units, carried out a large offensive, recapturing more than 10 villages in Abs and cutting off roads and backup lines of the enemy between this southern frontline and the northern and western frontlines of Abs, as well as cutting off the road linking Mustaba district with Bani Hassan area in Abs to isolate the enemy,” he said.
The villagers have fled the area following military tensions weeks ago to the internally displaced camps in several other areas under government control.
The offensive in Hajjah province coincided with another army’s large offensive in the central-western province of Taiz, as the army advanced there too, retaking large areas from the Houthis, according to local media reports.
The move came after the Houthi group last month announced a wide offensive to seize control of the central oil-rich province of Marib, the last northern stronghold of the government.
The UN has called on the Houthi group to stop its offensive on Marib as the province hosts more than 2 million internally displaced people.
Dozens of fighters from both sides have been killed since then, according to local media.
The US special envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking met with the delegation of the Houthi group in Muscat last month, presenting them with a comprehensive plan for a nationwide cease-fire and an end to the Yemeni civil war.
However, the Houthis has rejected the proposal in a statement, calling it “an empty one that represented the Saudi vision”.