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Yemen crisis: Houthi militia and allied army take town of Kirsh, 100km north of Aden.

Aden: Houthi fighters and allied army units captured the town of Kirsh, about 100km (62 miles) north of Yemen's second city of Aden, on Tuesday after heavy fighting with forces loyal to President Abdurabbo Mansour Hadi, local officials and residents said. To view the photo gallery, click here The area sits astride a main north-south road and lies about a 40-minute drive to the north of a major airbase, Al Anad, which remains in the hands of Hadi, who is based in Aden. Houthi fighters have also entered the Red Sea port of Al Mukha, bringing them closer to Hadi's refuge in Aden, security officials and residents said on Tuesday. The advance also placed the Houthis, who seized Yemen's capital Sanaa in September, a short drive from the Bab Al Mandeb strait, a Red Sea shipping lane vital to oil shipments. To the east, Houthi units on Tuesday entered Dhalea town, traditionally a hotbed of southern separatism, and fought gun battles with tribesmen and militias from the southern independence movement, residents said. Residents said the Houthi fighters entered Al Mukha, the southernmost Yemeni port before the Red Sea tapers to its narrowest point, overnight. They were accompanied by units from Yemen's divided military. A Houthi spokesman could not be reached for comment. Security officials said the Houthis' motive in entering Al Mukha, about 80km (50 miles) north of Bab Al Mandeb might be to reach a new coastal highway that links the town to Aden, a 260-km drive away, rather than to obtain control of the strait. Bab Al Mandeb - which means Gate of Tears in Arabic - links the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal. More than 3.4 million barrels of oil per day passed through Bab Al Mandeb in tankers in 2013, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Hadi's forces have stationed tanks and artillery on a number of roads linking north and south Yemen and residents reported clashes between the rivals forces on Tuesday morning on a main road 125km (80 miles) north of Aden. An array of tribesmen, militiamen and army units loyal to Hadi are resisting the southward advance of the Houthis in skirmishes that have escalated since the weekend. The Houthis' arrival in Dhalea mark their first inroads into the territory of the formerly independent south: The town has for years been the centre of an armed movement to secede from Sanaa. Troops aligned with Houthi militia shot dead at least four demonstrators on Tuesday during protests against the movement in and outside the central city of Taiz, medical officials said. Hundreds of activists set up a protest camp in the city centre of Taiz on Sunday when Houthi fighters and aligned army units seized the highland city, a takeover that has angered many residents but encountered little military opposition. At least 30 people have been killed in clashes between pro- and anti-government forces in central Yemen, tribal sources said on Tuesday. The Houthi militia, backed by troops allied to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, clashed with armed tribesmen in Baida province late Monday, the sources said, adding that nine tribesmen and 15 Houthi fighters were killed. The tribesmen booby-trapped two houses used as bases by Houthi fighters and ambushed several patrols, the sources added. Clashes raged in Marib, east of Sanaa, where tribesmen loyal to Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi confronted advancing Houthi fighters and pro-Saleh troops, tribal sources said. Six tribesmen, including a tribal chief, were killed in these clashes. The sources said that many Houthis had also been killed. The advancing forces included units from the former presidential guard, an elite force that Saleh built during his three-decade rule, the sources added. The gunfights took place as the Houthis, who seized control of Sanaa last year, sent additional reinforcements south, upping pressure on Hadi, who is refuged in the southern port city of Aden. Military sources in south Yemen said that reinforcements from the army's Al Hamza Brigade -- under Saleh's command -- had been mobilised from central Ibb province to Qatabah, in Daleh, some 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Aden. Dozens of tanks belonging to the 133rd Brigade, also loyal to Saleh, were also sent to Qatabah, military sources and witnesses said. The reinforcements came as anti-Hadi forces deployed south of the key city of Taez, which lies strategically on the road between Sanaa and Aden. Demonstrations continued Tuesday in Taez against the arrival of pro-Saleh forces and militiamen in the city, after security sources said they seized the airport. The head of Taez police denied late Monday that the airport or other government installations had been taken over. In a statement carried by Saba state news agency, which is now controlled by anti-Hadi forces, General Mutahar Al Shuaybi said air traffic at Taez remained "normal". Meanwhile, rival Yemeni factions have agreed in principle to hold reconciliation talks in the Qatari capital Doha, but no date has yet been set, a Qatari foreign ministry source said on Monday. The source spoke to Reuters after Qatar-based Al Jazeera television quoted UN Yemen envoy Jamal Benomar as saying the discussions would be held in Qatar and that any subsequent agreement reached would be signed in Saudi Arabia.

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:7YEME
Date:Mar 24, 2015
Words:882
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