Middle East

Yemen loyalists retake southern provincial capital: military sources

Tribal gunmen loyal to the Shiite-Houthi movement walk holding their weapons during a gathering against the Saudi-led intervention in the country in the Bani al-Harith area, north of the capital Sanaa, on August 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS

ADEN: Forces loyal to Yemen's exiled government recaptured a southern provincial capital from Shiite rebels and their allies on Sunday as they pressed an advance from second city Aden.

Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, had been held by troops of the renegade 15th Brigade which remains loyal to ousted strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh who is allied with the rebels.

Troops entered the coastal town, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Aden, after overrunning the brigade's barracks outside with support from Saudi-led air strikes, military sources said.

Residents of Zinjibar forced out by fighting that devastated their city also returned Sunday to take stock of the damage, a relief official said.

But many, including loyalist fighters, lost their lives as they treaded on mines planted by the rebels before they withdrew from the city.

At least 19 people were killed and 163 wounded on Saturday and Sunday in Zinjibar and the surrounding area, Aden health chief Al-Khader Laswar told AFP.

Mines and unexploded ordnance have caused similarly high death tolls in Aden itself since the rebels' pullout last month, with dozens of civilians reported killed and hundreds wounded.

Zinjibar is the third southern provincial capital from which the rebels have been driven out.

The loyalists secured Aden in mid-July and Lahj provincial capital Huta on August 4.

Aden was the last refuge of President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi before he fled into exile in neighboring Saudi Arabia in March.

Riyadh has since led a bombing campaign and air and sea blockade against the Iran-backed rebels and their allies in a bid to restore his authority.

It has also provided training and equipment to loyalist forces and earlier this month reportedly deployed hundreds of ground troops to Aden.

The capture of Zinjibar came three days after tribal and military sources said Saudi Arabia sent tanks, armored vehicles and personnel carriers to back the loyalist forces.

Hundreds of Yemeni soldiers trained in the oil-rich kingdom were also sent to bolster Hadi's forces, the sources said on Thursday.

The recapture of Zinjibar is expected to strengthen the position of loyalist forces as they expand their zone of control in southern Yemen and could pave the way for an attempt to pursue rebels further north.

The Houthis control the capital Sanaa, which they seized last year, and larges swathes of the country including the remote north where their mountainous stronghold of Saada is located.

On Sunday the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited the Old City of Sanaa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to assess the damage of the war on the second day of a three-day visit.

After touring damaged buildings and a hospital, ICRC chief Peter Maurer told reporters he had come to Yemen for a "view on the impact of the recent warfare".

Sanaa's Old City has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years and was a major center for the propagation of Islam, boasting more than 100 mosques, 14 public baths and more than 6,000 houses built before the 11th century.

Many of its ancient storied houses that rise like modern-day skyscrapers were damaged in fighting and Saudi-led air strikes, leaving residents homeless.

"It's an illustration of just one element of how people are affected by the warfare," Maurer said.

The ICRC has said Maurer would hold talks with leading officials, without identifying them, during his visit to Yemen. Rebel officials said he would meet Houthi leaders and their allies.

The United Nations says nearly 4,000 people have been killed since March, half of them civilians, while 80 percent of Yemen's 21 million people are in need of aid and protection.

The ICRC says 1.3 million Yemenis have been displaced by the conflict.

 

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