Some 200 pro-government fighters were killed and more than 1,000 taken prisoner in an August offensive near the Saudi border by the Houthi rebels in Yemen, a loyalist source and the rebels said.
The Iran-backed Houthis, who are fighting a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen’s long-running conflict, had claimed a mass capture of Saudi forces in the offensive, but a press conference on Sunday, September 29 was short on proof.
The three-day “large-scale” operation was launched on August 25, Houthi spokesperson Yahya Saree said, showing footage purportedly of the attack near the southern Saudi region of Najran.
The Yemeni government source confirmed to AFP that some 200 soldiers were killed in the attack.
The Houthis said more than 200 pro-government fighters were killed in dozens of missile and drone strikes.
“Over 2,000 fighters were taken prisoner,” the Houthi spokesperson added, saying most of them were Yemeni but that they also included other prisoners, without elaborating.
The government source said the number of prisoners was “less than” the Houthis claimed, estimating “the number is about 1,300 soldiers,” including 280 wounded.
The Yemeni troops had been surrounded for four days by the Houthis in the rebels’ northern stronghold of Saada province, he said.
The Houthi video purportedly showing the offensive contained footage of an attack on armoured vehicles, with some of them ablaze, and men marching along a dirt road with their hands in the air, but they were not in uniform.
It also shows arms and ammunition allegedly seized by the rebels.
A small number of captured men tell the camera that they are Saudi but do not offer any identification.
The coalition had no response to Houthi claims a day earlier that Saudi troops were among those taken captive.
Houthis release 290 captives, ICRC says
Separately on Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said the Houthis had released 290 detainees, including 42 survivors of an airstrike on a Dhamar detention center this month by Saudi forces.
The ICRC and United Nations facilitated the release following a request by the National Committee for Prisoners Affairs, the humanitarian organization said.
The organization said an ICRC medical staff member was present prior to the release to assess the health condition of the detainees, make sure they were fit to travel and make proposals to the authorities as to specific measures that some may have required. Two released detainees were transferred to their areas of origin by Yemeni Red Crescent Society ambulances.
The Houthis have made a series of big announcements in recent weeks, including an offer to halt drone and ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia as part of efforts to end the war.
The rebels also claimed responsibility for massive September 14 attacks on Saudi oil installations that knocked out half of the OPEC kingpin’s production and sent shock waves through world energy markets.
The United States and Saudi Arabia however blamed Iran, saying the strikes were carried out with advanced weaponry that was beyond the capability of the Houthis.
Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015 to bolster the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi after the Houthis seized much of the country, include the capital Sanaa.
Since then, tens of thousands of people – most of them civilians – have been killed in fighting that has pushed the country to the brink of famine.
The conflict has displaced millions and left more than two-thirds of the population in need of aid.
This story was updated on September 30, 2019 with information from the ICRC.
With reporting from AFP