By Murad Arifi, Mohamed al-Shbeiry and Shukri Hussein
Yemen’s Shia Houthi group and its allies on Tuesday captured the Hifan district in Yemen’s central Taiz province following the withdrawal of fighters loyal to President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, according to a pro-Hadi military source.
"The Houthis have established full control over Hifan, one of the last strongholds of the [pro-Hadi] resistance in southern Taiz, after staging a series of attacks on military sites in the area," the source said, speaking anonymously due to security concerns.
"They attacked us from three sides with Katyusha rockets and mortars," the source added, noting that several pro-Hadi fighters had been killed in the fighting.
The source could not say how many Houthi militants had been slain in the melee.
By their latest action, the Houthis and allied forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have succeeded in establishing control over all of southern Taiz, with Houthi forces reportedly now only 5 kilometers from the Tor al-Baha area in the southern Lahij province.
According to the pro-Hadi source, the Houthis and their allies are now in position to cut the main road linking the cities of Taiz and Lahij.
In separate violence on Tuesday, four Yemeni soldiers were killed in a suicide car-bomb attack -- later claimed by Al-Qaeda -- in Lahij province’s Al-Hubaylin directorate.
- Faltering peace talks
On the political front, meanwhile, President Hadi on Tuesday reiterated the government’s readiness to return to faltering peace talks in Kuwait if the Houthis agreed to implement a UN Security Council resolution calling on the Shia group to lay down its arms.
In April, the government and the Houthis entered into UN-sponsored peace talks aimed at resolving the ongoing conflict.
The talks broke down earlier this week, however, due to repeated violations of a fragile ceasefire agreement, especially in and around Taiz.
Yemen has been racked by chaos since late 2014, when the Houthis and pro-Saleh forces overran capital Sanaa and other parts of the country, forcing Hadi and his Saudi-backed government to temporarily flee to Riyadh.
In March of last year, Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launched a massive military campaign in Yemen aimed at reversing Houthi gains and restoring Hadi’s embattled government.
According to estimates, more than 6,400 people have been killed during the two-year conflict and another 2.5 million forced to flee their homes.