17 dead as Yemen loyalists battle rebels for strategic heights
Heavy fighting between Yemeni government forces and Shiite rebels for control of the heights overlooking the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait has left 17 combatants dead, the loyalist commander said Wednesday.
The waterway connects the Suez Canal and Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean beyond and is a major shipping lane.
"We launched an offensive which enabled us to recapture two mountains," loyalist commander General Fadhl Hassan told AFP.
"In 18 hours of fighting, which reduced in intensity this afternoon, 13 rebels and four of our men, one of them a colonel, were killed."
The rebels said on their sabanews.net website that they had taken several government-held positions and inflicted losses in the fighting.
Despite an 18-month-old military intervention by a Saudi-led coalition in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, the rebels still control nearly all of Yemen's Red Sea coast.
The fighting came as the rebels marked the second anniversary of their seizure of the capital Sanaa in alliance with renegade troops loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Celebrations were also planned in the rebel-held Red Sea port of Hodeida.