Forces allied with the internationally-recognized government of Yemen seized control of a strategic Red Sea port on Monday after waging an assault against Shiite rebels, a top military commander said.
Brig. Gen. Ahmed Seif al-Yafai said in press remarks that his forces have entered the city of Mokha, where dozens of families were seen fleeing days of clashes and bombardment. Dozens of fighters were killed as the bodies of the slain men littered streets and sidewalks, witnesses said.
Mokha, one of Yemen's oldest ports, is seen as a weapons lifeline to the rebels and their allies — who control the capital, Sanaa, and much of the northern region.
A Saudi-led military coalition is backing the government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and seeking to restore him to power.
The assault on Mokha aims at securing the entire western coastline including the ports of Hodeida and al-Saleef — which the northern region depends on for imports of basic food necessities and which the coalition also believes are main transit points for weapons coming from Iran.
Six Yemeni soldiers were killed late Monday when Saudi-led coalition warplanes mistakenly bombed a site in south-western Yemen, according to a local military source.
The strike targeted a mountainous area in Kahboub district near the Bab al-Mandab Strait, a key maritime route connecting the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, the source said. "Two soldiers were also injured in the attack," the source added anonymously due to restrictions on speaking to media.
The source attributed the erroneous airstrike to "lack of coordination" between government forces and the Saudi-led coalition. There was no comment from the coalition on the attack.
More than 150 fighters from both sides have been killed in the battle for the coastline since the government offensive was launched on January 7.
Houthis have controlled Mokha since they overran the capital Sanaa in September 2014 and advanced on other regions aided by troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The coalition mounted a military campaign against the rebels in March 2015 as insurgents closed in on Hadi in his refuge in the southern city of Aden and forced him to seek exile in Riyadh. Loyalists have since drove rebels out of five southern provinces, including Aden.
Yemen has been wracked by chaos since late 2014, when Houthi rebels and their allies overran the capital, Sanaa, and other parts of the country. The conflict escalated in mid-2015 when Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launched a major air campaign aimed at reversing Houthi military gains and shoring up Yemen's embattled Saudi-backed government.
Two rounds of UN-backed peace talks have failed to resolve the conflict in which thousands of Yemenis are believed to have been killed and an estimated three million forced to flee their homes.
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