Sana'a, April 3, (dpa/GNA) - Yemen's Houthi rebels made advances Thursday in the strategic southern city of Aden, making back ground they had lost just hours beforehand amid airstrikes launched by a Saudi-led coalition, local residents said.
The Houthis, widely understood to be backed by Shiite Iran, pushed deeper into Aden's central districts of Khor Maksr and Crater, defying the coalition bombing, according to the residents.
"The Houthi snipers are deployed on tops of buildings in Khor Maksr where they target anybody moving around in the area," a resident told dpa by phone. "Dozens have been killed and wounded."
There were no immediate comment from the Houthis.
Late Thursday, Saudi-led coalition planes struck military bases in Aden. Smoke was seen billowing from the headquarters of the "Special Forces," which is mainly controlled by the Houthis in Khor Maksr, a source told dpa.
The Shiite rebels, who already control the capital, Sana'a, have intensified their attacks during the past days as they move to capture Aden, the stronghold of embattled Sunni President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi.
Fierce fighting was under way between the Houthis and pro-Hadi loyalists in several parts of Aden.
"The fighting has widened and has reached a road leading to the presidential palace in the area of al Maasheeq," a local source said, adding that the palace is empty and without any guards.
Ali Al-Khahoum, a Houthi politburo member told dpa that their forces have achieved "key advancements and cleansed Khor Maksr and Al Maasheeq, Crater from terrorists."
He stressed that the ongoing war in southern Yemen is a war against al-Qaeda militants and forces loyal to Hadi.
"Our forces' advancements in Aden today proved that the Saudi-American project in Yemen has failed," al-Khahoum.
Should the Red Sea city fall to the rebels, it would deal a major blow to the Saudi-led coalition, which launched an aerial campaign on March 26 against the Houthis in response to a call for intervention from Hadi.
An official at Aden harbour denied reports that foreign troops had landed at the port.
He told dpa that a Chinese warship arrived at the port to evacuate Arab and foreign nationals stranded there.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, added that the warship came under fire from an unknown source.
"This prompted the warship soldiers to deploy around the port to protect the persons who were heading to the vessel," the official said without giving further details.
Hadi took refuge in Aden in February after fleeing Sana'a, where he had been besieged by the Houthis for more than a month.
The Houthis, who hail from the north, have in recent months swept across much of Yemen with backing from troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Saudis and their partners in the Sunni Arab coalition have vowed to press ahead with the bombing campaign until Hadi is reinstated, raising the spectre of a wider conflict with Iran, which has condemned the intervention.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia announced that one of its border guards was killed Wednesday in an exchange of fire across the border from Yemen, becoming the country's first fatality related to Operation Decisive Storm. The Saudis did not indicate if the fire came from the Houthis.
In other developments on Thursday, al-Qaeda insurgents attacked a prison in the south-eastern Yemeni city of Mukalla and freed around 300 - mostly al-Qaeda - inmates, a security official said.
The attack on the prison was one of a series of apparently synchronized raids by al-Qaeda against several state institutions in Mukalla, the official told dpa.
One of the freed prisoners has been identified as key al-Qaeda operative Khaled Batrafi.
"Armed elements from al-Qaeda are now besieging Mukalla from all directions. They are engaged in clashes with army troops," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"The siege aims at preventing the dispatch of any military reinforcements to the city."
Mukalla, the main city of the Hadramout province, has suffered a security breakdown over the past days due to the conflict.
The Arab world's poorest country, Yemen is home to an active al-Qaeda offshoot.