Dozens killed in battle for Yemen's Red Sea coast
Eighteen fighters were killed in intensified confrontations between government forces and Houthi rebels on Yemen's southwestern coast, military officials and medical sources said on Wednesday.
Fifteen insurgents were among those killed in clashes and coalition airstrikes in the past 24 hours, a medical source in the rebel-controlled port city of Hodeida said.
Three soldiers died in the battles, according to military and medical sources in Aden, the temporary base of the government as the capital Sanaa remains under rebel control.
Clashes have raged as government forces, backed by warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition, push to seize rebel positions east of the government-held Red Sea town of Mokha.
Forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi captured Mokha in February as part of a major ongoing offensive that aims to drive rebels from the lengthy Red Sea coastline.
On Monday, reports confirmed airstrikes and clashes killed 40 in just 24 hours, among whom were soldiers, rebels and civilians.
Coalition spokesman General Ahmed Assiri on Wednesday said current operations aim to clear the route east of Mokha towards the flashpoint city of Taiz, where loyalists are surrounded by rebels.
"The route between Mokha and Taiz should be cleared. On the way, there is Khalid bin al-Waleed military base that has a strong presence" of Houthis and allied renegade troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, he told AFP.
"It is a difficult area," Assiri said, adding that five Sudanese soldiers announced dead by Khartoum on Tuesday were special forces members killed in the same zone, known as Jabal al-Nar.
Sudan has contributed forces to the Saudi-led coalition that launched a military campaign against the rebels in March 2015.
Assiri said, however, that government forces advancing northwards towards the key port of Hodeida was not a priority for the moment.
"Hodeida is far. Not now," he said.
"We should cover our back. The priority is east of Mokha, then comes the north. It is not feasible to launch an offensive towards Hodeida now," he added.
The war between the government and the rebels escalated in March 2015 when the Arab coalition intervened in support of the internationally recognised President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people have been killed since then and more than 40,000 were left wounded in the impoverished state.
Yemen faces a serious risk of famine this year, the UN said.