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Yemen loyalists take control of Bab al-Mandab

Key trade route, through which millions of barrels of oil pass annually, had been in the hands of the Houthis and their allies since March
Militias of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi take control of the Aden highway which heads to strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait on 1 October 2015 (AA)

Government forces in Yemen now control the key Bab al-Mandab Strait through which much of the world's maritime traffic passes after retaking it from the Houthis, Yemeni military officials and a general involved in the offensive said on Friday.

On Thursday, troops backed by the Saudi-led coalition seized Bab al-Mandab and Dhubab in the southern province of Taez near the strait, Yemeni military official Abd Rabbuh al-Mihwali told AFP. 

The forces also seized the island of Mayyun (Perim) between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, said General Turki Ahmed, one of the offensive's commanders.

The narrow waterway, which separates Yemen from Djibouti only some 32km away, funnels shipping to and from the Suez Canal, which lies at the north end of the Red Sea. 

The strait, through which the US Energy Information Administration says 3.8 million barrels of oil and petroleum products passed to the US, EU and Asia in 2013, had been in the hands of Houthis and their allies, units still loyal to ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, since March.

Ahmed said that the Houthis and their allies retreated to Mokha, a Red Sea port city around 20km further north and near a village where 131 people were killed on Tuesday when a wedding party was hit by airstrikes. 

Residents said that the Saudi-led coalition was behind the bombardment, but a spokesman for the coalition denied involvement.

The Houthis have acknowledged that they lost the strategic strait. Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, self-described president of the High Committee of the Revolution, sent a message to UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressing "surprise" at the attack.

He viewed the assault as "a grave and irresponsible escalation", and said it threatened "the security of international maritime navigation", according to the text of a message released by the Houthi-controlled Saba news agency.

The attack took place "in response to rebel troop movements" towards Aden and the four other recaptured southern provinces, one source said.

President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and his government returned to Aden last month following six months in exile, after loyalist forces regained control of the port city and four other southern provinces from the Houthis. 

The Houthis still control the capital and northern provinces near the border with Saudi Arabia.

General Ahmed said he is now awaiting orders from Hadi and other officials for the next move in the offensive.