SANAA, June 14 (Reuters) – Houthi forces and their army allies in Yemen seized the capital of a large desert province on the border withSaudi Arabia on Sunday, residents said, an important victory for the group ahead of peace talks in Geneva on Monday.
The Houthis, the dominant faction in Yemen‘s civil war, took control of al-Hazm, capital of the province of al-Jawf, amid Saudi-led coalition air strikes on Houthi positions and heavy fighting with armed tribesmen.
“The Houthi forces and those loyal to the former president spread out in the city and around government buildings,” a tribal source in al-Hazm told Reuters by phone.
A Saudi-led military alliance has been carrying out air raids in Yemen for almost three months to try to restore exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and repel the Houthis, whom they regard as proxies for their regional archrival Iran.
Since forming an alliance with Yemen‘s still powerful former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his loyalists in the army, the Houthis have taken over the capital Sanaa and swooped into several central provinces.
But their push on the country’s southernmost city and major port, Aden, triggered the regional Arab intervention on March 26, and the air campaign has brought about a virtual stalemate in ground fighting nationwide.
The Houthis deny they are supported by Iran and say their advance is a revolution against corrupt officials backed by foreign powers, while the Yemeni government exiled in Saudi Arabia says the group has usurped the state and must back down.
United Nations-backed talks in Geneva this week will be attended by delegations representi Hadi, Saleh and the Houthis, but analysts believe prospects are dim for a compromise as fighting rages on.
In the southern province of Dhalea near Aden, local militiamen said they were pushing Houthi forces back after ejecting them from the regional capital last month. They addedg that at least 15 Houthi fighters had been killed and 70 Houthi detained in the last two days.
The reports could not be independently confirmed.