Anti-Houthi forces continue advance in Yemen's northern provinces
Saudi-backed forces allied to Yemen's exiled government have seized a town south of the rebel-held capital, military officials said on Tuesday, in their latest advance against Houthi rebels.
The "Popular Resistance Committees" - comprising pro-government fighters, Sunni tribes, and southern separatists - seized overnight the town of Utmah, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Sanaa, the officials said.
The town is in the province of Dhamar next to Sanaa province, where the predominantly Zaydi Shia rebels, allied to Yemeni army units loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have held the capital since September.
Anti-Houthi forces also seized six towns in the mountainous central Ibb province, where local Sunni tribes have been clashing with the Houthis for months, the officials said.
Backed by a Saudi-led coalition that has been carrying out air strikes since March, government-allied forces have been battling for months to restore President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in exile in Riyadh, to power.
The officials were unable to provide details on the number of 'Popular Resistance' or Houthi-Saleh casualties in the fighting.
Government-allied forces have launched a major counter-offensive in recent weeks and recaptured four southern provinces - Abyan, Aden, Dalea, and Lahj.
The advance has been leading toward third city Taiz, southwest of Sanaa.
Government-allied militia sources said clashes were ongoing in Taiz, which would be a major prize if retaken by anti-Houthi forces.
Elsewhere, military officials said the pro-rebel governor of the southeastern Shabwa province, Ali al-Awlaqi, fled to an unknown location on Monday as Popular Resistance forces prepared to enter the province.
The officials accused the rebels of planting landmines in government buildings across the province, in a sign that they were planning to retreat.
Complaining of marginalisation, the Houthis descended from their northern stronghold last year and, with the help of pro-Saleh army units, seized Sanaa unopposed.
They advanced on the main southern city of Aden in March, forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia and prompting Yemen's
neighbour to lead an air war on the rebels.
The latest turnaround in the fighting coincided with the appearance on the battleground of modern equipment that, according to military sources, the Saudi-led coalition had provided to Hadi's allies.
A military source last week also reported the deployment of "hundreds of soldiers from Gulf countries" in the coalition to Aden, along with dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles.