Yemeni armed forces have made major gains against Saudi mercenaries in the strategic central province of Ma’rib, establishing full control over Mount Hilan overlooking the provincial capital.
Since last month, the forces have been pushing to liberate Ma’rib, the last northern stronghold of Saudi-backed militants and the capital of an oil-rich region.
The forces "took control of Mount Hilan overlooking the city, after fighting which left dozens of dead and wounded on both sides," AFP cited an unnamed source close to Saudi-backed former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi on Friday.
"Marib is in danger," another source said, adding the loss of the mountain posed "a threat to Marib's first line of defense".
The spokesman of the Yemeni armed forces General Yayha Sare'e was about to make an important announcement later Friday.
Other sources said the Yemeni army troops had cut supply lines to Saudi-backed mercenaries on some fronts, and were now within firing range of the al-Mashjab line west of Mar’ib city.
They are on the verge of retaking the strategic district of Sirwah, despite the heavy deployment of military equipment and troops by the invading Saudi-led coalition to Ma'rib.
The Lebanon-based and Arabic-language al-Akhbar daily newspaper reported on Friday that the Yemeni troops and their allies have also scored territorial gains in al-Moshaja area and east of the Kassara front, which lies northwest of Ma’rib city, and established control over a number of military sites.
The report said the Yemeni armed forces managed to retake Malbouda area, situated north of al-Atif area, from Saudi-led coalition troops and their mercenaries despite heavy air cover by Saudi-led military aircraft.
Akhbar noted that the Yemeni soldiers and Popular Committees fighters have tightened the noose around Saudi-led forces and their allied militants, and seized 17 military sites from them.
According to the report, the developments mean the Yemeni armed forces are now in control of strategic heights overlooking Aydat al-Ra'a area.
Tribal sources in Ma’rib, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Akhbar that there has been a major collapse in the ranks of pro-Hadi forces, who are backed by extremist Salafist and al-Qaeda-linked militants.
The sources added that following the advances of the Yemeni forces in al-Atif area, they are very close to retaking the areas of Tala'at al-Hamra and Tabat Maher among other regions on the western flank of Ma’rib city.
Saudi-led warplanes have accordingly stepped up their airstrikes, bombing various regions in the province in regular intervals.
The warplanes have carried out repeated air raids against the Sirwah district, and pounded Medghal and Sirwah districts.
Local sources said several residential buildings as well as private properties had been damaged in the airstrikes.
Sirwah district hosts around 30,000 people displaced in harsh conditions as a result of earlier fighting, and the UN has repeatedly warned in recent weeks of a humanitarian crisis for civilians because of the current battles.
According to the UN, more than 8,000 people have been newly displaced in and around Sirwah since early February, many of them fleeing existing displacement camps.