Loyalists of Yemen’s exiled president seized more ground in second city Aden on Wednesday after recapturing the airport held by Iran-backed rebels for four months, military sources said.
The offensive, dubbed Operation Golden Arrow, is the first major advance by the loyalists since the Houthi rebels entered the port city in March, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi into exile in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
Despite an appeal from US President Barack Obama to King Salman of Saudi Arabia for an urgent end to the fighting, Saudi-led warplanes carried out six raids on rebel positions before dawn, witnesses and military sources said.
Popular Resistance fighters — a southern militia that has been the mainstay of support for Hadi — recaptured the provincial government headquarters in the Mualla district by Aden’s main commercial port, militia spokesman Ali al-Ahmadi told AFP.
They also advanced in the Crater district of the city, he added.
On Tuesday, the militia, backed by reinforcements freshly trained and equipped in Saudi Arabia, retook the airport and much of the surrounding Khormaksar diplomatic district.
“After the recapture of Khormaksar, there was a collapse in the ranks of the Houthis and their allies,” renegade troops loyal to Hadi’s predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, Ahmadi said.
It was the defection of the 39th Armoured Brigade on March 25 that had enabled the rebels to take the airport.
Much of Aden has been reduced to rubble by four months of ferocious fighting.
The retreating rebels pounded residential districts in the north and east of Aden with Katyusha multiple rocket launchers, provincial officials said.
At least 12 civilians were killed and 105 wounded, Aden health department chief Al-Khader Laswar told AFP.
Eight loyalist militiamen were killed and 30 wounded in the fighting, Laswar added.
There was no immediate word on rebel losses.
The rebel offensive comes after the failure of a UN-declared truce that was to have taken effect just before midnight on Friday.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon had announced a six-day ceasefire to allow the delivery of desperately needed relief supplies.
Ban was “very much disappointed” by the failure of the truce, his spokesman said.
Obama spoke by telephone with the Saudi king on Tuesday, the White House said.
The two leaders “spoke about the urgency of stopping the fighting in Yemen and the importance of ensuring that assistance can reach Yemenis on all sides of the conflict”.
The United Nations has declared Yemen a level-3 humanitarian emergency, the highest on its scale.
More than 21.1 million people — over 80 percent of Yemen’s population — need aid, with 13 million facing food shortages, while access to water has become difficult for 9.4 million people.