Jan 23, 2:43 PM EST

Yemeni government forces take strategic port of Mokha



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Yemeni government forces take strategic port of Mokha

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SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Forces allied with the internationally-recognized government of Yemen seized control of a strategic Red Sea port on Monday after waging an assault against Shiite rebels, a top military commander said.

Brig. Gen. Ahmed Seif al-Yafai said in press remarks that his forces have entered the city of Mokha, where dozens of families were seen fleeing days of clashes and bombardment. Dozens of fighters were killed as the bodies of the slain men littered streets and sidewalks, witnesses said.

Mokha, one of Yemen's oldest ports, is seen as a weapons lifeline to the rebels and their allies - who control the capital, Sanaa, and much of the northern region.

A Saudi-led military coalition is backing the government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and seeking to restore him to power.

The assault on Mokha aims at securing the entire western coastline including the ports of Hodeida and al-Saleef - which the northern region depends on for imports of basic food necessities and which the coalition also believes are main transit points for weapons coming from Iran.

If Hadi's forces manage to seize the ports, the rebels - known as Houthis - will be largely cut off from the outside world; the Saudi-led coalition has enforced a no-fly zone that has kept the Sanaa airport closed.

The Mokha campaign comes at a time of a political deadlock.

On Monday, U.N. Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed ended his visit to Yemen where he met with ministers from the rebel-backed government days after visiting Aden, the temporary capital for Hadi's government.

A statement issued by Ahmed's office urged both sides to agree on a cessation of hostilities.

"It is mandatory that the parties end the violence to ease the suffering of the Yemeni people and pave the way for a peacefully negotiated settlement," the statement said. "What we need at this stage is more than words, what we need is commitment and results."

Failure to come to an agreement, Ahmed said, would result in, "more deaths and further economic and humanitarian deterioration."

A senior official in Hadi's government said Hadi was angered by Ahmed's visit to the rebel-backed government, which is not recognized by the international community. He added that Ahmed has been trying to revive the road map which was supported by the United State without success and which would give the rebels a share of political power in a unity government.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the press. He said that Hadi will only accept a new peace deal that recognizes the U.N. Security Council resolution - which stipulates that rebels withdraw from the cities they seized and handover all heavy weapons.

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