APRIL 1, 2015
Rebels in Yemen Battle for Control of Strategic Port City
By SAEED AL-BATATI and KAREEM FAHIM
AL MUKALLA, Yemen -- Houthi fighters backed by tanks pushed into the center of Aden on Wednesday and were battling for control of the southern port city, despite a weeklong Saudi military offensive against them.
Witnesses reported fierce street battles and high civilian casualties in the Yemeni city on Wednesday night, including in the Khormakser district along the coast. Local journalists said the Houthis were facing stiff resistance from fighters allied with the exiled president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. 
A Houthi victory in Aden, Yemen's second largest city, would be a significant setback for the Saudi-led military coalition, which has declared an open-ended operation intended to restore Mr. Hadi to power. Houthi control of the city would most likely expose it to even greater turmoil, as local fighters opposed to the Houthis continued to resist their presence and as coalition forces intensified their efforts to dislodge the Houthis using airstrikes and naval shelling.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed as Yemen has been consumed by combat  over the last few weeks, with clashes stretching from southern provinces around Aden to the border with Saudi Arabia in the north.
The Saudi-led coalition, which includes the Sunni monarchies on the Persian Gulf and is backed by the United States, began its offensive last week, largely in response to the Houthi push toward Aden. Saudi officials accuse the Houthis, a militia from northern Yemen that also controls Sana, the capital, of acting as a proxy for Iran.
The Houthis acknowledge an alliance with Tehran but insist that they are acting as an independent force. The coalition has threatened to escalate military action, perhaps with ground troops, if the Houthis do not capitulate.
The Saudi intervention has deepened the turmoil of Yemen's longstanding civil conflict. Many international aid agencies, fearing for the safety of their workers, have withdrawn. Those that remain say the air and sea blockade has prevented supplies from getting through.
The battle between Mr. Hadi's loyalists and Houthi-allied fighters has resulted in strikes on hospitals, ambulances and civilian vehicles, according to medical workers. Human rights organizations have accused the Saudi military of bombing indiscriminately and of killing civilians as it tries to hit Houthi positions. Saudi officials have either denied the accusations or accused the Houthis of opening fire from populated areas.
At least 33 people were killed in an explosion overnight in a dairy factory near the coastal city of Al Hudaydah. Factory executives said the explosion was caused by a Saudi airstrike that may have been intended for a Houthi base less than a mile away.
The director of the city health bureau in Al Hudaydah, Abdulrahman Jarallah, said the victims were employees working the night shift at the factory, owned by Yemen Dairy and Juice Industries.
Saeed al-Batati reported from Al Mukalla, and Kareem Fahim from Cairo. Mohammad Ali Kalfood contributed reporting from Sana, Yemen.