Houthi forces pulled back from positions in central Aden after air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, residents of the southern Yemeni port city said.
They said a unit of Houthi and allied fighters, who had advanced in tanks and armoured vehicles through Aden’s Khor Maksar district 24 hours earlier, pulled back at dawn on Thursday, although they remained in parts of the neighbourhood.
The Houthis’ recent gains in Aden, the last major foothold of supporters of Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, have happened despite a week of air strikes by Saudi Arabia and a coalition of mainly Arab Gulf allies.
At least 19 people were killed in intense clashes between the rebels and local militia and residents loyal to Hadi near Khor Maksar on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yaseen, directed his attention not at the Houthis on Thursday, but at former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
“The main thing now is if Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces stop fighting with [the Houthis], I think they will start to retreat. Our main problem now is not the Houthis. They are rebels, they are few; they have only light weapons which most Yemenis as you know have got. But Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces, which have heavy artillery, have all kinds of weapons, they are the ones who should surrender,” Yaseen said.
What's happening now would be a disaster for Aden and its people, if Aden falls
Aden residents said they saw groups of fighters carrying rocket-propelled grenades and accompanied by four tanks and three armoured vehicles in Khor Maksar – part of a neck of land linking central Aden to the rest of the city.
Many people fled the area and some were trying to get on a ship leaving the port, as the death toll jumped to 122 over the past five days.
A medic at the city’s main Jumhouriya Hospital said that it has received the bodies of six dead civilians and five local militia fighters, known as “popular committees”.
Meanwhile, a military official close to the Houthi rebels said that they lost eight men in the clashes, the AFP news agency reported.
The Houthis, with vital support from army units loyal to Saleh, emerged as the dominant force in Yemen after they took over the capital Sanaa six months ago and they now control much of the Arabian Peninsula country.
The alliance of mainly Arab Gulf states has bombarded rebel positions in the port city for the second week of raids that also targeted the capital Sanaa and other areas.
The coalition has also attacked the Houthis from the sea but their advance towards Aden has been relentless.
Hadi left the city on Thursday for Saudi Arabia, whose stated aim is to restore him to power.
Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Assiri told reporters in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, that the latest operations have targeted rebel brigades in Daleh, Aden and Shabwa, all provinces in Yemen’s south.
“Operations in regions and roads leading to Aden were intensified and have been fruitful,” he said at Wednesday’s daily briefing, without giving details.
An explosion at a dairy factory in Yemen’s Hudaydah port meanwhile killed at least 25 workers, medical sources said, with conflicting accounts attributing the blast to an air strike or to a rocket landing from a nearby Houthi base.
The Houthi movement said that “after a week of bombing on Yemen the aggressors have not achieved any result.”
“The victories in Aden today embarrass this campaign and silenced the aggressor states,” Houthi spokesman Mohammad Abdulsalam told the militia’s al-Maseera television late on Wednesday.