Aden (AFP) - Heavy fighting between Yemeni government forces and Shiite rebels for control of the heights overlooking the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait has killed 17 combatants, the loyalist commander said Wednesday.
The waterway connects the Suez Canal and Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean beyond and is a major shipping lane.
"We launched an offensive which enabled us to recapture two mountains," loyalist commander General Fadhl Hassan told AFP.
"In 18 hours of fighting, which reduced in intensity this afternoon, 13 rebels and four of our men, one of them a colonel, were killed."
The rebels said on their sabanews.net website that they had taken several government-held positions and inflicted losses in the fighting.
Despite an 18-month-old military intervention by a Saudi-led coalition in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, the rebels still control nearly all of Yemen's Red Sea coast.
The fighting came as the rebels marked the second anniversary of their seizure of Sanaa in alliance with renegade troops loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi delivered a televised speech on Tuesday night in which he blasted Saudi Arabia as "the enemy" and its government as "tyrannical".
"The revolution will continue today in the face of aggression, it will continue until it achieves freedom and independence," he said.
"I tell the Saudi regime... you are responsible for your end and the results of your failed aggression."
Most members of Huthi's Ansarullah movement belong to Yemen's Zaidi religious minority. In September 2014 they took control of the capital and advanced on other parts of the country.
Forces loyal to President Hadi are mainly based in the south and are struggling to push northwards despite support from coalition forces.
Since the coalition intervened in March 2015, more than 6,000 people have been killed, according to the United Nations.