Raging Yemen clashes leave 18 dead

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Intensified confrontations between government forces and Houthi militia on Yemen’s southwestern coast have killed 18 fighters in the past 24 hours, military officials and medical sources said on Wednesday.

Clashes have raged as government forces, backed by warplanes from the Arab coalition, push to seize rebel positions east of the government-held Red Sea town of Mokha, military sources said.

Fifteen insurgents have been killed in clashes and coalition air strikes in the past 24 hours, a medical source in the militia-controlled port city of Hudaydah 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 militia control.

Forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi captured Mokha in February as part of a major ongoing offensive that aims to drive Houthis from the lengthy Red Sea coastline.

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 Houthis.

“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 coalition that launched a military campaign against the militia in March 2015.

Assiri said, however, that government forces advancing northwards towards the key port of Hudaydah was not a priority for the moment.

“Hudaydah 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 Hudaydah now,” he added.

The United Nations says more than 7,700 people have been killed over the past two years in Yemen, which faces a serious risk of famine this year.