Yemen's president on Tuesday returned to the southern port city of Aden, seeking to re-establish control over the war-torn country after months in exile in neighboring Saudi Arabia, his office said.
It was the first time President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi had set foot in Yemen since fleeing Aden in March as Shiite Muslim rebels and their allies closed in.
Pro-government forces supported by a Saudi-led coalition of Persian Gulf states, including troops from the United Arab Emirates, re-took the city in July and began advancing north toward the capital, Sana.
Hadi's arrival suggests that his supporters were feeling increasingly confident about their hold on Aden, where residents have complained of persistent lawlessness and the presence of gunmen affiliated with extremist groups such as Al Qaeda or Islamic State.
Hadi was preceded by Vice President Khaled Bahah, who flew into Aden with several government ministers last week.
Hadi arrived about 4 p.m Tuesday and went straight into meetings with government officials and leaders of the campaign to restore him to power, said Osama Sharmy, a spokesman for the president's office.
Sharmy said Hadi's return would be permanent, although the president plans to fly to New York after the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha this week to join world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly.
"With the president's return, the most important goal of the Decisive Storm operation was achieved," said Sharmy, referring to the military campaign launched by the Sunni Muslim coalition against the rebels known as Houthis, who they see as proxies for Shiite-led Iran.
"Now the legitimate government is back in Yemen, and I would say with confidence that more than 70% of Yemen is under the control of the legitimate government and the legitimate military."
Supporters of the Houthis dispute that assessment.
After making some gains in the south, pro-government forces are reported to have stalled in Marib province, about 100 miles east of Sana, which the Houthis seized last September with help from military units loyal to the country's ousted strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Residents of the capital have endured heavy airstrikes in recent days, which many fear are intended to pave the way for a potentially deadly ground assault.
Aerial bombardments and ground clashes have killed more than 4,800 people since March, about half of them thought to be civilians. The violence and a crippling naval blockade imposed by the coalition against the Houthis have caused what the United Nations calls a humanitarian catastrophe in the Arab world's poorest nation.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is "extremely concerned by the escalating ground fighting and airstrikes that have caused further devastation to Yemen's cities and an ever-growing number of civilian casualties in recent days," according to a statement issued by his office Tuesday.
The statement welcomed the release of several captives by the Houthis on Sunday, including three Saudis, two Americans and a Briton.
"This measure represents a concrete and positive step in efforts to lessen tensions in the region," it said. "The secretary-general calls upon all parties in the conflict to work with his special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, in the search for a durable political solution."
Special correspondent Al-Alayaa reported from Sana and Times staff writer Zavis from Los Angeles.
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