Officials: 320 fighters killed in battle in central Yemen

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Fighting raged between Yemen's government forces and Houthi rebels, killing 320 fighters from both sides in central Bayda province since the weekend, health and security officials said Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the Yemeni government backed by a Saudi-led coalition launched a military operation to reclaim Bayda from the Iran-backed Houthis.

Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, when the Houthis swept across much of the north and seized the capital, Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year on the side of the government.

Bodies were still lying in mountainous areas of Bayda and inside armored vehicles that were hit by airstrikes. The International Red Cross was expected to pull them out for burial, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Fighting in Bayda came as the Houthis attempt to break through government defenses in the strategic city of Marib, also located in central Yemen . The rebels have been attempting since February to capture it from the internationally recognized government, which would complete their control over the northern part of Yemen.

The government has been sending reinforcements to Bayda since losing to the Houthis some of the districts it had reclaimed earlier, the officials said. However, most of the casualties belonged to the Houthi camp, said tribal leaders who also asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.

Both sides have claimed making significant gains but there was no way to verify the claims on the ground independently.

In a televised statement, Yahia Sarei, a military spokesman for the Houthis, claimed the rebels could stop their rivals from advancing in the province in three days.