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Hadi loyalists eyeing Yemen’s largest air base: source - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Military vehicles of the Southern Popular Resistance fighters move during clashes with Houthi fighters on a street in Yemen's southern port city of Aden on July 17, 2015. (REUTERS/Stringer)

Military vehicles of the Southern Popular Resistance fighters move during clashes with Houthi fighters on a street in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden on July 17, 2015. (REUTERS/Stringer)

Sana’a and Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi-backed fighters are preparing to push into Yemen’s largest air base, a government source has said, one day after the country’s exiled leaders declared Aden liberated from Houthi rebels.

Eyewitnesses said heavy Saudi-led airstrikes on Friday hit the Houthi-controlled Al-Anad Air Base in the southern Lahej province, 35 miles (60 kilometers) north of the newly captured Aden.

The strategic air base served as the headquarters for US counterterrorism operations in southern Yemen until Houthi insurgents, backed by followers of ex-president Ali Abdulah Saleh, consolidated their control of Yemen in late 2014.

This comes after Yemen’s government-in-exile said on Friday loyalists had completely liberated Aden from Houthi rebels in a major military campaign that involved close coordination with the Saudi-led coalition forces.

Senior exiled officials arrived in Aden from Saudi Arabia on Friday to prepare for the return of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government.

The high-level government delegation is working to “secure a foothold for [Hadi’s] government to resume its work from Aden,” a presidential adviser told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The capture of the city represents the biggest setback for the Iran-backed Houthis who remain in control of large parts of Yemen, including the capital Sana’a.

“The government will work to normalize life in Aden governorate and the rest of the liberated cities, restore infrastructure, including Aden’s international airport and seaports, and secure the return of the displaced,” a government source said.

Aden for several months has been the scene of violent clashes between pro-Hadi fighters on the one hand and the Houthis and Saleh’s followers on the other. Hadi fled Aden, where he had established a temporary base, to Saudi Arabia following the Houthis’ advance in late March.

In response to a call for intervention from Hadi, Saudi Arabia has been bombarding rebels’ positions in Yemen for three months to restore the beleaguered president to power.

In a step aimed at restoring security and stability to Aden, the exiled government has “reopened all police departments in Aden and formed a special force to pursue criminals and the remaining [Houthi] rebels,” Major General Ja’afar Mohamed Sa’ad, a Hadi advisor, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Forty-five Houthi fighters were arrested in Aden on Friday, a government source said, while around 30 others remain holed up in a central Aden hotel.

“The besieged Houthis and Saleh’s followers are under the illusion that their leadership will send military reinforcements to their rescue,” he said.

Nasser Al-Haqbani contributed additional reporting from Riyadh.