SANAA, Yemen — Fighters backing Yemen's exiled government captured a city on the road to the port city of Aden, officials said Tuesday, their first significant victory since a Saudi-led coalition began targeting Shiite rebels in airstrikes.
The fighters took Dhale, a significant gain as the city is home to the command center of the 33rd Armored Brigade, the country's largest army unit that had been loyal to former Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh has backed the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, in their campaign across Yemen that began in September.
Government-allied fighters seized tanks, rocket launchers and ammunition caches from the base at Dhale, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Aden, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.
Footage from Dhale aired on the Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya satellite news network showed fighters in one armored vehicle flying the flag of once-independent South Yemen. The fighters, though allied with exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, also want an independent southern state in the country, which only was unified in 1990.
Dozens of fighters on both sides have been killed in intense clashes around Dhale in the past two weeks. Fighting between the two sides still raged Tuesday on the city's outskirts, officials said.
A Saudi-led coalition began targeting the Houthis and their allies March 26. The U.N. estimates that at least 1,037 civilians, including 130 women and 234 children, have been killed between March 26 and May 20 in the fighting.
Hadi's government in exile has declared several provinces of Yemen disaster zones, including Dhale, where all basic services have collapsed. Due to the violence and a Saudi-led sea-and-air blockade, most Yemenis face severe shortages of fuel, water, medicine and food.
In a new report, international humanitarian group Oxfam warned that some 16 million people in Yemen don't have access to clean water.
"This is equivalent to the populations of Berlin, London, Paris and Rome combined, all rotting under heaps of garbage in the streets, broken sewage pipes and without clean water for the seventh-consecutive week," said Grace Ommer of Oxfam.
The Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrikes Tuesday in at least five cities, including the capital, Sanaa, and Aden, a rebel stronghold.
Meanwhile, a statement by the Saudi Interior Ministry said fighting along the kingdom's border with Yemen near Asir killed one Saudi soldier and wounded three late Monday.
As fighting continues, hopes are dwindling for a political resolution to end the war. Peace efforts also received a major blow this week after U.N.-sponsored negotiations due to take place in Geneva were indefinitely postponed.
And in a limited Cabinet reshuffle, Hadi appointed a former lawmaker, Brig. Gen. Abdu al-Houzifi, as a new interior minister to replace one who sided with the Houthis.