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Houthis lose ground in Yemen's south, Saudi targets shelled

ADEN/SANAA (Reuters) - Southern Yemeni fighters backed by a Saudi-led air coalition seized more territory from Houthi militiamen near Aden on Friday, while three Saudi soldiers were killed when the kingdom came under shelling from Yemen, in an apparent Houthi attack.

Southern Resistance fighters gather in the al-Alam entrance of Yemen's southern port city of Aden, after taking control from Houthi fighters July 31, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

The Saudi interior ministry said the three were killed and seven border guards were wounded by the shelling in Dhahran Aljanoub, a governorate in the Saudi border region of Aseer, the official SPA news agency reported.

The statement did not say who carried out the shelling, but Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh have carried out similar attacks on southwest Saudi Arabia during Yemen’s four-month-old conflict.

Saudi forces and the Houthis have been trading fire across the border since the Arab alliance began its operations on March 26 to end Houthi control over much of the country and return president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from exile.

The Southern Resistance, an alliance of southern groups including secessionists seeking an independent south Yemen, retook much of Aden this month, supported by air strikes by the Saudi-led Arab coalition.

On Friday, southern Yemeni fighters and army units loyal to Hadi won full control of Houta town, capital of Lahej province north of Aden, in heavy clashes, sources in the resistance said.

They reported 14 Houthis were killed and 40 captured.

Southern fighters and pro-Hadi army units also drove Houthi fighters from Lowdar town in southern Abyan province and captured a number of Houthi fighters, they said.

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In a separate incident, nine soldiers were killed and 30 wounded in a car bombing at an army base by suspected Islamist militants in southern Hadramout province, local officials said.

Yemen’s war is rooted in political strains that spread across the Arabian Peninsula country last year, when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa and pushed aside Hadi, an ally of the United States and Saudi Arabia, who fled to Riyadh.

The Houthis, who are from Yemen’s far north and belong to the Zaydi sect of Shi’ite Islam, later took more territory south and east of the capital, saying they were winning a revolution against Sunni militants and corrupt officials

The coalition said on Thursday it aimed first to help bring Yemen’s government back from exile to Aden and then return it to Sanaa if possible via peace talks with the Houthis.

But if the Iranian-allied Houthis did not eventually agree to quit Sanaa, the government would have the right to “get them out” by force, coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said in an interview with Reuters.

Senior members of Yemen’s administration in exile flew to Aden on July 16 to make preparations for the government’s return there, four months after it was pushed out by Houthi forces.

Asseri said the Houthis ought to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls for the Zaydi Shi’ite movement to withdraw from cities under their control, return seized arms and allow Hadi to return from his Riyadh exile.

The Houthis have rejected that resolution.

After months of conflict much of the country is suffering severe shortages of fuel, water, food and medicine.

U.N. aid chief Stephen O’Brien said on July 28 health facilities in Yemen reported more than 4,000 people had been killed and some 19,800 wounded in the war.

Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashef and Mohammed Ghobari, Writing by Reem Shamseddine and William Macleran, Editing by Ralph Boulton