CAIRO (Reuters) - At least 20 Houthi militia fighters were killed in heavy clashes in Yemen's third-largest city Taiz on Thursday, a day after they pounded it with rockets, forces loyal to the government said.
Taiz, considered Yemen's cultural capital, has suffered huge destruction since becoming a main battleground in the conflict between government supporters and the Iran-allied Houthis, who are backed by forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. It is currently divided between the two sides.
The Houthis and Saleh's forces are battling a Saudi-led coalition which is trying to restore the government of Yemen's current president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which is now based in the southern port of Aden.
Forces loyal to Hadi killed at least 20 Houthis and Saleh loyalists in Taiz, their commanders said. Nobody from the Houthis was available to confirm the death toll.
On Wednesday, 14 civilians were killed in shelling in Taiz by the Houthi side, medical sources said.
Thousands have had to flee Taiz and those left behind are facing severe shortages of basic supplies. In September, the United Nations said it was concerned about the near collapse of the health care system in the city.
Also on Thursday, the Houthi-controlled Saba news agency said at least 12 Hadi supporters were killed in an ambush by Houthi fighters in Marib, east of Sanaa. Reuters could not verify the deaths.
At least 5,400 people have been killed in the fighting in Yemen, the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, since March. The United Nations says the humanitarian situation is critical.
Air strikes by the Arab coalition have struck civilian targets on at least four different occasions in recent weeks, including a wedding party on Sept. 28 that killed 131 people.
The Saudi-led coalition has gained ground in southern Yemen, but Houthi forces remain in control of much of the country despite the almost daily air strikes.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Editing by Angus MacSwan)