Coalition pounds Yemen rebels, sets sights on capital

Yemeni troops backed by a coalition of Arab states have been battling the Huthi rebels since 2015 (AFP Photo/Khaled Fazaa)

Aden (AFP) - Warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition hit Yemen rebel positions Saturday as reinforcements reached pro-government forces preparing for an anticipated advance towards the capital, military sources said.

Apache helicopters struck a base occupied by rebel forces near Bayhan, in the southern province of Shabwa, hours after fighter jets targeted a convoy of the Iran-backed Huthi rebels in the area, a military source said.

Warplanes also pounded arms depots in the rebel-held capital Sanaa, according to witnesses.

Bayhan borders the eastern province of Marib, where military reinforcements have arrived from neighbouring Saudi Arabia to bolster forces loyal to exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, military sources said.

Armoured vehicles have crossed the Wadia border point in Hadramawt province, heading to Marib, where loyalists are preparing a large offensive, a military official told AFP.

The coalition has also deployed eight Apache helicopters that will be based at the Safir oil fields, the official said.

The operation, aimed at driving the Huthis out of Marib and pushing west towards the capital, will begin in the next few days, the official said requesting anonymity.

Bolstered by coalition air power and newly trained troops, Hadi loyalists have driven rebels out of Yemen's second city Aden and four other southern provinces and are now fighting for control of the third city of Taez.

In March, Huthi rebels and troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh advanced on Aden, where Hadi had taken refuge after escaping house arrest in Sanaa.

Hadi later fled to Riyadh, which assembled an Arab coalition that mounted a fierce air campaign against the rebels.