Yemen’s internationally recognised government has announced the “liberation” of the country’s second city, Aden, following four months of intense battles between Houthi rebels and forces trying to oust them.
Exiled Vice President Khaled Bahah said on his Facebook account on Friday that his government will try “to restore life” to the southern port city.
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“The government announces the liberation of the province of Aden on the first day of Eid al-Fitr which falls on July 17,” Bahah said, referring to the Muslim holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
We will work to restore life in Aden and all the liberated cities, to restore water and electricity
However, a spokesperson for Houthi rebels told Al Jazeera that the announcement was a “lie”.
“There are many exaggerations. Fighting is still raging at high intensity,” he said over the phone.
“We will not give up until we liberate Aden inch by inch from the invading powers.”
Residents and local fighters told the Reuters news agency that low-level clashes were still continuing in the Tawahi district in the west of the city to sweep the Houthis from one of their last holdouts.
“Praise God,” said 35-year-old fish seller Wasseem al-Hiswa.
“We’re so happy we can return to our normal lives after such suffering for almost four months.
“But huge problems remain – water and electricity cut off often, so we’re still suffering a lot.”
Fighters for the Popular Resistance – an anti-Houthi southern militia – have been making significant gains against their rebel opponents this week, including recapturing the provincial government headquarters in the Mualla district, opposite Aden’s main commercial port.
In an interview with Al Jazeera from Aden, Bashraheel Bashraheel, deputy editor of Al Ayyam newspaper, said that 10 to 15 percent of the city is still controlled by the Houthis.
He also said that a “large chunk” of the port of Aden is also under the hands of the Shia-affiliated armed rebels.
“It is still very dangerous for the refugees to go back to their homes,” he said.
Bashraheel added that with the ongoing fighting, the country is “definitely heading towards” possible division between the north and the south.
Operation Golden Arrow
On Tuesday, loyalist forces launched Operation Golden Arrow against rebels who seized control of much of Aden in March, forcing the government into exile in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
Several ministers and top intelligence officials of the exiled Yemeni government returned to Aden on Thursday for the first time since the Houthis captured the city in March.
The delegation included the ministers of the interior and transport, a former interior minister, the intelligence chief and the deputy head of the house of representatives.
In his Facebook post, Bahah said: “We will work to restore life in Aden and all the liberated cities, to restore water and electricity.”
The offensive in Aden has come after the failure of a UN-declared truce that was to have taken effect just before midnight last Friday to allow the delivery of desperately-needed relief supplies.
The United Nations has declared Yemen a level-three humanitarian emergency, the highest on its scale.
According to UN figures, more than 3,200 people have been killed since late March, when a coalition of Arab countries began air strikes after Houthis took over the reins of power in the impoverished country.