ADEN, Yemen, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- Intense battles raged Sunday in Yemen's western coast port city of Hodeidah, just hours after pro-government forces unleashed an offensive to expel the Houthi rebels from key positions, a government official told Xinhua.
The fierce fighting took place between pro-government forces, backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with Saudi air cover, and Houthi rebels in Durayhmi area of Hodeidah province, the source said on condition of anonymity.
The pro-government forces stepped up military operations in an attempt to seize Durayhmi and all the surrounding areas from Houthi rebels, the source said.
He added that the Houthis fought back and resisted fiercely despite losing scores of their fighters in the ongoing fighting in Durayhmi.
UAE helicopters heavily engaged in the fighting by shelling Houthi-controlled sites in Durayhmi, leaving an unknown number of casualties among the rebels, according to the source.
Other military sources in Hodeidah said that many Houthi rebels were either killed or wounded during the ongoing fighting and aerial bombardment in Durayhmi area.
According to the Hodeidah-based sources, intensified Saudi-led airstrikes also targeted gatherings of the Houthi rebels in Durayhmi and destroyed several armored vehicles outfitted with machine guns.
Several Houthi rebels were captured during the raging battles including child soldiers and mid-level commanders of the Iranian-backed Houthi group.
An army officer said that the southern Giants Brigades backed by the UAE deployed armored vehicles and set up key checkpoints along the roads leading to Durayhmi.
Meanwhile, residents told Xinhua by phone saying that artillery and rocket shelling by the pro-government army on the positions of Houthi forced dozens of families to leave their homes to other safe areas.
Some of the escaped families left to other provinces controlled by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government in the country's southern part.
Many civilians including children and women were killed or injured during the exchanging of random shells between the two warring rivals in Hodeidah in previous battles.
The Yemeni government seeks to expel the Houthi rebels out of the strategic port city of Hodeidah militarily despite warnings issued by international humanitarian agencies.
On the other side, the Iranian-backed Houthis establish many underground trenches and vowed to defend the city of Hodeidah in order to remain in control over its key port along the Red Sea.
On June 13, the Arab coalition, backing internationally-recognized government of Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, declared a major assault to recapture Hodeidah and the Yemeni western Red Sea coast from the Houthis.
Yemen's government and Saudi Arabia have repeatedly accused the Houthi rebels of using Hodeidah's port to smuggle Iranian weapons. Both Houthis and Iran denied the accusation.
Hodeidah is the single most important point of entry for food and basic supplies to Yemen's northern provinces controlled by Houthis, including the capital Sanaa.
The Arab coalition intervened in Yemen's conflict in March 2015 to roll back Iran-allied Shiite Houthi rebels and reinstate Hadi.