SANAA, Yemen (AP) — The Saudi-led coalition targeting Shiite rebels in Yemen bombed insurgent positions near the Bab el-Mandeb strait on Sunday to weaken them in preparation for a ground offensive there, Yemeni security officials close to pro-government forces said.
The airstrikes were confirmed by security officials close to the rebels, known as Houthis, who said that 13 of their fighters were killed in the airstrikes. The airstrikes took place in areas Houthis control around the strategic Red Sea strait, including the port town of Mocha, which is connected by road to Taiz, Yemen's third-largest city.
A similar tactic of airstrikes preceding a ground offensive was used in other areas taken over by pro-government forces, including in the southern port city of Aden, which the Houthis lost to pro-government troops last month
Meanwhile, the Saudi military said a high-ranking general was killed along the kingdom's border with Yemen in the kingdom's southern region of Jizan. The Saudi Press Agency carried the statement saying Maj. Gen. Abdulrahman al-Shahrani, commander of the 18th brigade, died Sunday after coming under hostile fire. He is the highest ranking Saudi officer to die since Saudi Arabia began its air offensive in Yemen in late March.
Several dozen Saudi soldiers have been killed in border attacks since the airstrikes began, mostly by missiles launched by the rebels and their allies. Two Saudi pilots were killed Friday when their helicopter was shot down in Jizan.
Also Sunday, Yemeni officials said pro-government forces took over the eastern part of the town of Mukayris in Bayda province in an operation supported by airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to brief journalists.
Yemen's conflict pits the Iran-allied Houthis and troops loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, against an array of forces including southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants as well as troops loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Associated Press writer Abdullah al-Shihri contributed to this report from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.