Ground forces from Gulf states were moving towards the front lines against Houthi rebels in Marib province, east of the capital Sana’a, eyewitnesses said Tuesday.
It is the first time that ground forces from the Saudi-led coalition backing exiled President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi have headed towards the conflict zones in Houthi-dominated northern Yemen, and comes three days after 60 coalition soldeirs were killed in a missile strike.
Troops from the United Arab Emirates are reported to have played a key role in operations that drove the mainly Shiite Houthis from most of southern Yemen in recent months.
The Gulf troops, backed by armoured cars, tanks and rocket launchers, were moving towards flashpoints in Marib’s Bihan and Harib districts accompanied by Yemeni army units and local fighters loyal to Hadi, the witnesses said.
Pro-Houthi forces on Friday killed 60 coalition troops in a missile strike on their main base in Safir, east of Marib, marking the alliance’s heaviest losses yet in the five-month campaign against the rebels.
Recent days have seen Saudi Arabia and Qatar send reinforcements to Safir and another base east of Marib as Hadi’s supporters speak of a potential operation to recapture the capital.
Sources close to the Iranian embassy meanwhile said that the Islamic Republic’s ambassador and his deputy had left Sana’a.
Their apparent departure came after Hadi’s foreign minister, Riad Yassin, said the embassy was acting as a “military command centre” for the Houthis and supplying them with financial support and intelligence.
Hadi’s government and its Gulf allies accuse Tehran of backing the Houthis. Iran, which has warm relations with the rebels, has condemned the Saudi-led intervention against them but denies that it has given them material support.
Coalition warplanes, which have stepped up their air raids on Sana’a since Friday’s missile strike on Safir, hit police buildings and a military base in the capital on Tuesday morning.