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Yemen crisis: Houthi rebels 'driven from key al-Anad airbase'

BY: BBC
Pro-government forces have been advancing on the airbase for days

Pro-government forces in Yemen have retaken the country's largest airbase in a battle with Houthi rebels, a spokesman for the forces told the BBC.

Heavy casualties have been reported at al-Anad airbase, north of Aden, after intense fighting there in recent days.

It comes after pro-government forces, backed by air strikes from a Saudi-led coalition, retook Aden in July.

The Saudis are leading a campaign to push the rebels back and restore the government, which it is sheltering.

Troops and armoured vehicles from the United Arab Emirates - a key member of the coalition - are also said to have arrived in recent days.

Military officials quoted by the Associated Press news agency say the foreign troops are helping the pro-government forces operate sophisticated weapons, including tanks. The New York Times said the troops had been involved in the fighting at al-Anad.

However, local journalists told the BBC that Emirati troops had recently disembarked in Aden and were deployed as advisers, rather than in combat, while a Yemeni military official denied foreign troops had landed in Yemen.

There has been no comment from the Houthis on the latest claims that the base has fallen.

If confirmed, the recapture of the airbase could remove a major obstacle for government forces on the road to Taiz, Yemen's third-largest city, where pro-Hadi militia have been clashing with rebels.

Sunni power Saudi Arabia regards the Houthis as proxies of Shia rival Iran. It alleges Iran has provided the Houthis with weapons, something Iran and the Houthis deny.

The rebels - backed by forces loyal to the former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh - say they are fighting against corruption and marginalisation of their northern powerbase by Mr Hadi's government.

The conflict has killed almost 4,000 people in Yemen, nearly half of them civilians, since it escalated with the Saudi-led campaign in March, according to the United Nations.

Thousands of Yemenis have fled the fighting, many of them sheltering in the tiny nation of Djibouti, across the Horn of Africa.