January 23, 2017 / 11:52 AM / 4 years ago

Gulf-backed Yemeni forces push into Red Sea coast city: officials

ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) - Yemeni army forces backed by Gulf Arabs fought their way into the Red Sea coast city of al-Mokha on Monday, military officials said, pushing out Iran-allied Houthi militia.

Members of the Yemeni army ride on the back of military trucks near the Red Sea coast city of al-Mokha, Yemen January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman

A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen’s civil war nearly two years ago to back President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after he was ousted from the capital Sanaa by Houthi forces.

The so-called National Army loyal to Hadi entered the port area on Mokha’s southwestern edge, an army official said.

“Houthi forces began withdrawing this morning, and the city is nearly abandoned after most of its residents departed,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The city and the port under the control of national army.”

A spokesman for rival army forces fighting for the Houthis could not be immediately reached for comment.

At least 10,000 people have died in the mostly stalemated Yemeni conflict, which has unleashed a humanitarian crisis in the already desperately poor Arabian Peninsula country.

While government forces in the south and east nominally hold most of Yemen’s territory, Hadi has struggled to enforce state authority among various militias, militants and tribes. The Houthis control most of Yemen’s population centers in the northwest including Sanaa.

Army forces and a group of militias called the Southern Resistance launched an offensive on the Red Sea coast this month to deprive the Houthis of ports and to isolate them in the inland capital.

The smaller coastal town of al-Dhubab has been recaptured in the thrust, which has been backed by scores of air strikes and a small contingent of troops and tanks from the United Arab Emirates.

Gulf Arab countries are concerned the Houthis are a proxy for their arch-rival Iran - a charge Tehran denies.

They and Hadi’s government say their campaign aims to protect the Bab al-Mandeb strait, the strategic waterway at the foot of the Red Sea through which nearly 4 million barrels of oil are shipped daily to Europe, the United States and Asia.

Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Noah Browning; editing by Mark Heinrich

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