AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni government troops in the southern province of Shabwa announced on Sunday that they had repelled a Houthi assault on their positions in the face of the militia’s continuing expansion of military operations.

Houthis attacked Shabwa Defense Forces on Saturday in a range of mountains which connect the Merkhah Al Ulya district with the adjacent Bayda province, resulting in a fierce battle that reportedly killed and wounded many soldiers on both sides.

Government troops said that the Houthis were forced to suspend the assault and withdraw after failing to capture control of the highlands, and that military reinforcements were sent to the front line to repel any future action.

Unofficial Houthi media sources said that its troops had moved 8 km into government-held territory in Merkhah Al Ulya.

A Yemeni official in Shabwa told Arab News that the Houthi attacks had been intended to distract government soldiers rather than occupy the province.

The official, who requested anonymity, said: “Rather than a full-scale military action in the area, the purpose of the strike is to stir up sluggish waters.”

The Houthi military buildup in Shabwa comes only days after heavy combat erupted in the central province of Marib when government soldiers were attacked in rural areas of Hareb.

The fighting subsided on Sunday amid reports that government forces had regained villages held by the Houthis.

Meanwhile, Taiz Gov. Nabil Shamsan said on Twitter that Houthis had attacked his convoy for 90 minutes on Saturday with a guided missile, mortars, and artillery bombs as he was returning to Taiz from the city of Mocha on the Red Sea.

One of his bodyguards was killed and two others were injured in the incident.

Houthi assaults and the militia’s military escalation have sparked outrage and warnings of the impending failure of UN-led diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.

Separately, Yemen’s Ministry of Human Rights said on Sunday that Houthis had encircled ancient areas in the city of Ibb and had detained scores of people, including two social media activists who took part in a rally against the militia last week.

The burial of a social media influencer turned into a protest against the Houthis on Thursday.

Protesters accused the militia of kidnapping, torturing, and executing Hamdi Abdel-Razzaq, also known as Al-Mukahal, an influencer abducted by the Houthis in October for criticizing corruption.

The Yemeni government said that armed Houthi forces in military vehicles surrounded Ibb, where the influencer had lived, and conducted raids on homes, detaining many people.

The government’s statement added: “The ministry has monitored the savage Houthi terrorist militia’s campaign of arbitrary arrests against Ibb residents, looting and destruction of their property, and terrorization of children and women.”