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Yemen pro-government forces take main rebel roads into Hodeidah

The two routes are crucial links between the capital Sanaa and the Red Sea port city
Yemeni soldiers, supporters of the Houthis, march during the funeral of a military leader killed in the province of Hodeidah (AFP)

Yemeni government forces, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, seized two major rebel supply routes near the key port city of Hodeidah, military sources said on Wednesday.

Abdulrahman Saleh Abou Zaraa, head of the brigade fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels in Hodeidah province, told AFP his forces had taken the rebels' main supply route linking the port city to the capital Sanaa, known as Kilo 16. 

The Saudi-backed forces seized a second supply route around Hodeidah, known as Kilo 10, earlier on Wednesday, military sources said.

Nearly three quarters of crucial imports to impoverished Yemen pass through Hodeidah, including humanitarian aid.

A military source in the brigade fighting in Hodeidah told AFP that Wednesday's operation aimed to cut off supplies to the rebels. The government coalition did not have immediate plans to try to take the city, the source said. 

Fierce clashes broke out Wednesday between the Houthis and pro-government forces on the east and south of rebel-held Hodeidah, leaving dozens of fighters dead, according to military and medical sources.

Scores killed in fighting, air strikes

It also comes after fighting and air strikes around Hodeidah left 84 people dead over the weekend.

Hospital sources in Hodeidah said on Sunday that 11 soldiers and 73 rebels had been killed since United Nations-brokered peace talks were abandoned on Saturday.

Dozens of rebels and at least 17 soldiers had also been wounded.

Attempted peace talks between Yemen's Saudi-backed government and the Houthis, who are linked to Iran, collapsed over the weekend, sparking fears of an escalation in the country's conflict.

The rebels refused to leave Yemen for the talks in Geneva, saying the UN had not met their demands - including a plane to transport their wounded to nearby Oman and a guarantee their delegation would be allowed to return to the capital Sanaa.

Following the collapse of the talks on Saturday, the head of the Houthi rebels called for "resistance" to continue.

"Our choice is steadfastness and resistance to aggression on all fronts," Abdulmalik al-Houthi said in a defiant speech.

"I appeal to the free and honourable people of Yemen today to go to the fronts ... We must move on all fronts to recruit for our defence," he said in a speech broadcast on rebel TV.

In 2014, the Houthis seized control of a string of Red Sea ports and the capital, driving the government out of Sanaa and President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi into exile.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the conflict to bolster Hadi. The Saudi-backed coalition now controls Yemen's airspace.

Some 10,000 people have since been killed, according to UN figures which have not been updated for almost two years, and the country now stands at the brink of famine.

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