ADEN/SANAA (Reuters) – Local fighters & army forces in Yemen wrested two military bases from Houthi forces overnight, residents & officials said, building on a week of gains against the country's dominant faction.
The advances come a day after Yemen's government in exile declared the key southern city of Aden "liberated", in their biggest victory yet in a Saudi-led air campaign & civil war that has raged almost four months & killed more than 3,500 people.
Saudi-backed Yemeni forces backed up by air strikes seized the Labuza army base in Lahj province north of the port city & the headquarters of the 117th armored division in eastern Shabwa province some 230km (145 miles) away.
p> Residents said sporadic clashes continued on Saturday inside Aden as local fighters aimed to root out remaining Houthis.
Officials in the anti-Houthi forces say the offensive was planned for weeks & benefited from training & arms deliveries from Saudi Arabia & the United Arab Emirates.
In a presidential decree, Yemen's exiled leader Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Riyadh named Aden's main thoroughfare after Saudi Arabia's King Salman on Saturday as a gesture of gratitude.
The war in Yemen has pitted the Sunni Muslim Gulf states, which support the exiled government, against the Shi'ite Houthis allied to Iran, in a conflict that has further raised the stakes as the Middle East grapples with regional rivalries & sectarian strife.
But power struggles have simmered for years in the impoverished & conflict-wracked country, & fighters in Yemen's south — the setting for most of the recent battles — have long sought independence from the North, the Houthis' home.
Residents said Houthi forces & their allies in Yemen's army made an attempt to regroup & take back northern fringes of Aden on Friday, firing rockets at the Khor Maksar district.
Their push was repelled, anti-Houthi fighters said, & an offensive backed by air strikes is underway to take Anad air base, one of Yemen's largest, 60 km (40 miles) north of Aden.
Islamic State in Yemen issued a statement & several photographs online on Saturday claiming for the first time to have taken part in the clashes in Aden.
It showed masked fighters in two pickup trucks & images of bound men it said were detained Houthi snipers.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a string of deadly attacks on the Houthis in the capital Sanaa, yet has not been known to have confronted the group in battle.
The Houthis say their campaign in Aden was aimed at rooting out hardline Islamic militants & a corrupt government.
(Writing by Noah Browning, editing by Louise Heavens)