SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's pro-government forces have retaken most of the strategic province of Lahj, once the main southern enclave of Shiite rebels who control the country's capital and much of the north, officials and witnesses said Wednesday.
Pro-government forces have made a series of gains in recent weeks in southern Yemen with the help of a Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition that has been waging an air campaign against the Iran-allied rebels and allied military units since March.
The officials say the rebels, known as Houthis, appear to have lost most of their heavy weapons in a battle Monday to defend the key military base of al-Anad in Lahj.
There were no immediate reports on casualties from the fighting in the strategic province. Witnesses say the remaining rebels in Lahj have taken refuge in surrounding farmland.
Houthi officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Meanwhile in Taiz, Yemen's third-largest city, five civilians were killed in clashes between rebels and pro-government troops at a state security building that the Houthis have been using as a base since March, medical officials said.
Pro-government forces have cordoned off the southern port city of Aden and set up security checkpoints. Those residing outside Aden are not allowed to enter the city for fear they may be "Houthi sleeper cells," a security official said.
Meanwhile, gunmen killed a rebel leader and two of his companions at a checkpoint near the country's capital, Sanaa, late Tuesday night, security officials and the Houthi rebels' media center said.
Officials identified the leader as Ahmed al-Mahdi. Attacks on rebel leaders in the country's Houthi-controlled north are rare.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.