Yemen: Coalition, pro-gov’t forces close to recapturing Taiz presidential palace

Photo: People carry a man who was injured in clashes between tribal fighters and Houthi rebels, in Taiz, Yemen

Forces belonging to the Saudi-led coalition targeting the Houthis and their allies in Yemen, aided by pro-government forces, are close to recapturing the presidential palace in the southwestern city of Taiz, according to sources.

Parts of the strategic city, which lies 109 miles (176 kilometers) northwest of the southern port city of Aden where the Yemeni government is now headquartered, have been under the control of the Houthis and their allies for months.

However, sources from the Popular Resistance, a coalition of volunteer forces loyal to the government and President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday that the Joint Forces, which comprises the Popular Resistance and forces belonging to the Saudi-led coalition, have made progress in recapturing large parts of the city.

They said large numbers of Houthi fighters and those loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh—who along with Iran has aided the Houthi coup in Yemen—have in recent days fled the site of the presidential palace in the city, which has for months been in under Houthi control.

They said “fierce battles” have raged for days around the palace and the nearby headquarters of the state security forces, where Houthi fighters have encamped.

Local activist Fuad Al-Mussalami told Asharq Al-Awsat the Houthis have been “haphazardly targeting civilian areas in the city with a range of heavy and medium weaponry,” adding that “many” civilians have been killed in these attacks.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other NGOs operating in Yemen have accused the Houthis of targeting civilians in other areas of the country. HRW has said Houthi commanders and leaders could face war crimes tribunals over Houthi actions in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition, which also includes forces from the UAE, Qatar, Egypt, and Bahrain, began its campaign in the country in March following a request from President Hadi.

He fled Yemen earlier that month after being placed under house arrest by the Iran-backed Shi’ite group. Members of the government, including Prime Minister and Vice President Khaled Bahah, were also arrested by the Houthis following the group’s coup in February.

This followed the Houthis’ occupation of Sana’a in September of 2014 when the group, aided by Saleh loyalists in the army and security forces, took over government, media, and military buildings and facilities in the city, then spreading to other areas of the country.

The Saudi-led campaign, bolstered by on-the-ground support from Hadi loyalists, has made significant progress in recent months, with most of the country’s southern regions, including Aden and the strategic Bab El-Mandeb strait, now back under government control.

Last month the government and Hadi returned to Aden where they have now moved the seat of government in light of the Houthis’ continued occupation of Sana’a.

The Joint Forces are now targeting northern areas of the country including the capital and the Houthis’ stronghold, Saada.

Asharq Al-Awast