Pro-Hadi fighters in Yemen seize strategic Red Sea island
Yemeni fighters loyal to the exiled President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, supported by Gulf air and naval forces, have captured a strategic Red Sea island, the Saudi-led coalition announced on Thursday. The strategic victory comes as Gulf monarchs pledged to hold a global conference on the reconstruction of Yemen.
Leaders from the six Gulf Cooperation Council states, gathered in Riyadh for a two-day summit, talked of "preparing an international conference on the reconstruction of Yemen" after a political solution to the conflict, a statement said.
A Saudi-led coalition has been bombing for eight months to help the government of Predient Adb Rabbuh Mansour Hadi who is battling Houthi militias as well as former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Greater Hanish island was "cleansed in a well-executed operation conducted by members of the Popular Resistance supported by the joint coalition forces," said a statement on the official Saudi Press Agency.
The Popular Resistance is an umbrella of Yemeni fighters who have been battling Houthi rebels and are supported by coalition troops, air and naval forces.
Greater Hanish is part of an archipelago that commands access to the Bab al-Mandab Strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, through which much of the world's maritime traffic passes.
It had been held by around 400 renegade troops loyal to former president Saleh, who stepped down in 2012 before allying with the Houthis, military sources said.
Saudi Arabia's official Ekhbariya television broadcast images from the island of a damaged mosque and soldiers finding arms and ammunition.
There were also images of warships and of helicopters hovering over the island.
"The operation comes simultaneously with ongoing operations by the Popular Resistance in the (northern) provinces of Hajja and Jawf to liberate them", the coalition said.
The rebels seized the Yemeni capital last year before advancing on other parts of the country.
Pro-Hadi fighters have since retaken five southern provinces and are trying to recapture the strategic Taiz province which extends to Bab al-Mandab, in an offensive they launched last month.
The United Nations says more than 5,700 people have been killed, about half of them civilians, since fighting intensified in March.
The UN is hosting long-awaited UN-led peace talks between Yemen's warring sides on Tuesday in Switzerland.
A row between Yemen and Eritrea over the Hanish islands sparked an armed conflict between the two countries in 1995.
The dispute was resolved under a 1998 ruling by the International Court of Justice, which granted Yemen sovereignty over the volcanic islands.