SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Heavy fighting raged between forces of Yemen’s internationally recognized government and Houthi rebels in central Bayda province, officials said Monday.
Government forces and allied tribesmen, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, reclaimed large swaths of territory in the province, according Information Minister Moammar al-Iryani.
Houthi officials said the rebels suffered heavy losses in the fighting that raged over the weekend, and that they sent reinforcements to the province to repel government attacks. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, when the Iranian-backed Houthis swept across much of the north and seized the capital, Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year on the side of the government.
Amer al-Homaiqani, a spokesman for tribesmen fighting alongside government forces, said they took control of the district of Zahir and progressed westward to the provincial capital of Bayda.
He posted videos on social media purportedly showing armored vehicles and other military equipment he says were taken from Houthis who fled their fortified positions in the district.
The media center of Yemen’s army said they also retook several villages in Bayda’s eastern district of Sawmaa.
Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed said a military operation was begun to “liberate” Bayda from the Iran-backed Houthis.
Fighting in Bayda came as the Houthis attempt to break through government defenses in the strategic city of Marib. The rebels have been attempting since February to capture it from the internationally recognized government, which would complete their control over the northern part of Yemen.
However, they have not made substantial progress and have suffered heavy losses amid stiff resistance from government forces aided by the Saudi-led coalition supporting them.
Separately, in the southern province of Abyan, an explosion killed three people and wounded 22 others in a military camp Sunday, according to Defense Minister Mohammed al-Maqdishi.
It was not clear what caused the blast, but al-Maqdishi accused the Houthis of firing a missile that hit a mosque at the camp. The rebels did not claim the attack.
The conflict in Yemen has killed more than 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The U.N. children agency said in a report Monday that just over 2 million school-age children are out of school as poverty, conflict and lack of opportunities disrupt their education. That’s double the number of out-of-school children in 2015, UNICEF said.
The agency said children, boys and girls, are vulnerable to being coerced into child labor or recruited into the fighting. More than 3,600 children in Yemen were recruited in the past six years, it said.
“The conflict has a staggering impact on every aspect of children’s lives, yet access to education provides a sense of normalcy for children in even the most desperate contexts and protects them from multiple forms of exploitation,” said Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF representative to Yemen.