Yemeni forces on Thursday captured a strategic area of the coastal Hudaida province from Houthi rebels while advancing towards the nearby Al Tahita Directorate, according to a local military source.
According to Nasser Khaddam, a Yemeni army commander, pro-government forces have captured the Al Faza district, located on the coast road linking the city of Hudaida to Yemen’s port city of Mocha.
“Yemeni forces have advanced 14 kilometers from Al Faza towards the Mazaraa al Nakheel area near the capital of the Al Tahita Directorate,” Khaddam said.
Government forces, he added, had since imposed a siege on the area in preparation for launching a major offensive.
According to the army commander, “numerous” Houthi rebels have been killed by pro-government forces backed by a Saudi-led military coalition.
Anadolu Agency was unable to obtain immediate comment from Houthi spokesmen regarding Khaddam’s assertions.
This news comes following the meeting between a UN special envoy and Yemen's exiled president on Wednesday as part of efforts to find a political solution that would avert an all-out assault on the country's main port city, which the United Nations fears could trigger a famine.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths, who has already held meetings with the Houthis, met President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in the southern city of Aden, temporary headquarters of his exiled Yemeni government.
The Houthis have indicated they would be willing to hand over management of Hudaida port to the United Nations, and Washington has encouraged the Arabs to accept such a deal, Western sources have told Reuters.
But a UAE official said on Tuesday that the Houthis must quit the Red Sea city altogether as a condition for any peace deal.
Yemen's embattled president has demanded a full rebel withdrawal from conflict-hit Hudaida, according to a government source.
"President Hadi insisted on the need for the Houthis to withdraw completely and without conditions from Hudaida, or face a military solution," a Yemeni government source told AFP, requesting anonymity.
A diplomatic source has said the Houthi rebels have agreed to cede control of the port to the United Nations.
The report has not been confirmed by the UN.
The Arab states have been battling since 2015 to restore a government that was driven out of the capital by the Houthis, Shia fighters which Yemen's neighbours view as agents of Iran.
The Houthis now control most of Yemen's populated areas as well as the capital. They deny they are Iranian pawns and say they are defending the country from foreign invasion.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television on Wednesday quoted sources as saying Griffiths told Hadi that the Houthis had agreed to hand management of the port to the United Nations, but Hadi stressed that the Houthis must completely quit the city.
An official in the exiled government told Reuters the talks were still ongoing.
Fighting has abated in the last week since UAE-backed forces took control of Hudaida airport.
But the United Nations fears the next phase of the battle could see the Arab forces attack the city centre and move on the port, causing both high casualties in the city itself and a potential humanitarian catastrophe if supplies to the rest of the country are cut.
Since June 13, Yemeni government forces - backed by a Saudi-led military coalition - have waged a wide-ranging operation to retake Hudaida, along with its strategic seaport, from the rebels.
Impoverished Yemen has remained wracked by violence since 2014, when Shia Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including capital Sanaa.
The conflict escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-Arab allies - who accuse the Houthis of serving as proxies for Shia Iran - launched a massive air campaign in Yemen aimed at rolling back Houthi gains.
The following year, UN-sponsored peace talks in Kuwait failed to end the destructive conflict.
The violence has devastated Yemen’s infrastructure, including water and sanitation systems, prompting the UN to describe the situation as “one of the worst humanitarian disasters of modern times”.