Ye­men forces pre­pare as­sault near key strait

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ye­meni gov­ern­ment forces have sent re­in­force­ments to the Red Sea coast to drive Iran-backed rebels away from a key global ship­ping route, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said yes­ter­day. Shi­ite Houthi in­sur­gents and their al­lies, forces loyal to for­mer pres­i­dent Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh, con­trol most of the coun­try’s Red Sea coast­line.

That in­cludes Dhubab, just 30 kilo­me­ters from the strate­gic and busy Bab Al-Mandab strait link­ing the Red Sea and the In­dian Ocean. Two US war­ships and an Emi­rati ves­sel in the Red Sea came un­der mis­sile at­tack from rebel-held ter­ri­tory in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber. The gov­ern­ment now aims to “push back the rebels away from the western coast and Bab Al-Mandab, and to se­cure mar­itime nav­i­ga­tion in the south­ern part of the Red Sea,” a mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said.

Pro-gov­ern­ment forces have been sent to the area, backed by tanks, other ar­mored ve­hi­cles and Katyusha rocket launch­ers, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said. They said the of­fen­sive aimed to wrest back con­trol of the coast from Dhubab as far north as Al-Khukha 90 kilo­me­ters far­ther north. Troops were also sent by the Saudi-led Arab coali­tion which in­ter­vened in March 2015 to prop up the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Abedrabbo Man­sour Hadi.

Pro-gov­ern­ment troops seized Dhubab in early Oc­to­ber 2015, giv­ing them ef­fec­tive con­trol of Bab al-Mandab. The rebels man­aged to re­cap­ture the area in Fe­bru­ary. Hadi or­dered the as­sault ahead of meet­ing UN spe­cial en­voy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in south­ern port city and tem­po­rary cap­i­tal Aden on Thurs­day. Ould Cheikh Ahmed was there to dis­cuss a new at­tempt to end the coun­try’s con­flict.

The gov­ern­ment-run sa­ web­site said Hadi handed him a let­ter reit­er­at­ing the gov­ern­ment’s re­jec­tion of a roadmap the en­voy pre­sented in Oc­to­ber, which would see the pres­i­dent eased out of power. Hadi, who has spent most of his time in Riyadh since the con­flict broke out, flew to Aden last Satur­day on a sur­prise visit. Thurs­day’s meet­ing was his first with the UN en­voy to take place in Aden.

Clashes raged on Fri­day in sev­eral ar­eas in north­ern Ye­men, along the bor­der with Saudi Ara­bia, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said, as coali­tion war­planes pounded rebel po­si­tions. Air strikes tar­geted rebels in Nahm, east of Sanaa, and in Ras Isa oil ter­mi­nal on the Red Sea. More than 7,000 peo­ple have been killed and nearly 37,000 wounded since the con­flict es­ca­lated af­ter the Saudi-led mil­i­tary coali­tion in­ter­vened in March 2015 to sup­port Hadi.

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