Yemeni army says sites near Saudi border wrested from rebels

Yemeni army says sites near Saudi border wrested from rebels

SANAA - The Associated Press
Yemeni army says sites near Saudi border wrested from rebels

Children walk at a camp for people recently displaced by fighting in Yemen's northern province of al-Jawf between government forces and Houthis, in Marib, Yemen, on March 8, 2020. (REUTERS Photo)

Yemen's army said it wrested control of several northern towns from the Iran-backed Houthi rebels on March 9, a step toward reversing the rebels' rapid gains in the strategic area.

Yemeni forces, supported by Saudi airpower, announced on Twitter that they retook cities in the vast Khub Walsha'af district, which borders Saudi Arabia.

The battles over the last two days killed at least 35 fighters from both sides and wounded dozens of others.

The Houthis had brought those sites under their control just days earlier as part of advances made following the capture of Hazm, the capital of oil-rich Jawf province.

Hazm is a strategic prize for the Houthis, paving the way for the march toward the central province of Marib, a shrinking anti-Houthi stronghold in the country's north.

Gains by the Shiite Houthis so close to Saudi Arabia's southern border raised alarm in the kingdom, which was driven into the war in the first place by its view of the rebels as a client of its regional foe, Iran.

To help the army fend off the Houthi advance, the Saudi-led coalition staged at least 18 airstrikes on Khub Walsha'af, the Houthis said on March 9.

If Houthi fighters manage to reach the Saudi border, it would signal a breakthrough in their quest to solidify control of the country's north and would open a new front against Saudi forces.

The Yemeni army has been mobilizing to try to retake Hazm over the past week, despite stern warnings by U.N. envoy to Yemen Martin

Griffiths to halt recent military escalations before Yemen slips "back into large-scale conflict and another humanitarian tragedy.''

"The military adventurism and quest for territorial gains that we have seen since mid-January in northern Yemen are leading us away from peace,'' Griffiths said during a weekend visit to Marib.

Marib, a sort of haven for hundreds of thousands of Yemenis who have fled Houthi offensives since the start of the war, has been even more overrun by a thousand Yemeni families displaced by the latest round of fighting.

The grinding war has killed over 100,000 people since 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition launched its military offensive to oust the Houthis, which had seized the capital and much of the country's north.