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Al-Qaeda gains ground as Yemen's conflict moves to Taiz

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has taken advantage of the chaos to make territorial gains
Taiz has been battered by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes (AFP)

Known as the "gateway to Sanaa", the Houthi-controlled town of Taiz has been battered by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, killing dozens.

Backed by the coalition, fighters loyal to exiled President Mansour Hadi have advanced against the Iran-backed Shia rebels. 

In the previous month, Hadi-loyal soldiers retook the southern port city of Aden and seized four additional southern provinces as they marched towards Taiz, some 330km south of Sanaa.

In an earlier MEE article this week, armed men claiming to be members of the Southern Popular Resistance group in Taiz Province executed captive Houthis in Taiz City, dragging some of them through the street.

As combat intensifies in Taiz, the loyalists were flanked by Al-Qaeda in Aden. Al-Qaeda forces have been suspected of entering Aden several weeks ago and were blamed for blowing up a secret police building.

They were also said to have taken up positions in several strategic parts around the city.

Rima Kamal, spokeswoman in Yemen for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told AFP that the violence in Taiz on Friday had killed 80 people.

"My colleague was told that by noon yesterday, there were 50 killed; in the evening it went up to 80. These are figures we are receiving from various sides," she said. 

Loyalist forces remain in control of the city's air and sea ports, as well as security headquarters, but their hold is limited because so many police have fled Aden.

General Ali Nasser al-Akhsha, an aide to the interior minister, said the "extremists are beginning to appear in the open, but we are going to clear them out as quickly as possible".

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is classified as a terrorist group by the United States, has taken advantage of the chaos in Yemen to make territorial gains. They have overrun the port of Mukalla, capital of the eastern Hadramawt province, in April.

On Friday night, the Houthis said they had shot down a Saudi Apache helicopter in the Jazan region near the Saudi border. 

Yemen has been wracked by conflict since March, when the Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes against the rebels as they advanced on and eventually took Aden after seizing the capital in September.

The war has killed nearly 4,500 people, many of them civilians, according to the United Nations.