October 22, 2015 / 4:17 PM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 2-Heavy fighting breaks out in Yemen's Taiz city, ICRC says situation "dire"

* Taiz now divided in two, main battleground in war

* ICRC says 22 killed in Wednesday’s shelling, air strikes

* Residents say 10 fishermen killed by coalition air strikes (Adds air strike on fishermen)

CAIRO, Oct 22 (Reuters) - At least 20 Houthi militia fighters were killed in heavy clashes in Yemen’s third-largest city Taiz on Thursday, a day after they pounded it with rockets, forces loyal to the government said.

Taiz, considered Yemen’s cultural capital, has suffered huge destruction since becoming a main battleground in a war between government supporters and the Iran-allied Houthis, who are backed by forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. It is currently divided between the two sides.

A Saudi-led coalition trying to restore the government of Yemen’s current president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has gained ground in the south, but Houthi forces remain in control of much of the country despite the almost daily air strikes.

Forces loyal to Hadi killed at least 20 Houthis and Saleh loyalists in Taiz, their commanders said. Nobody from the Houthis was available to confirm the death toll.

Air strikes and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas in Taiz on Wednesday killed 22 people and wounded 140 others, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement, citing local hospitals as their sources.

“The situation in Taiz is particularly dire, even by the standards of the appalling conditions all over Yemen, with the nearly half of the hospitals closed and streams of wounded people desperate for treatment,” the head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, Antoine Grand, was quoted as saying.

Thousands have fled and those left behind face severe shortages in water, food and electricity. Grand said the ICRC had been trying for five weeks to obtain authorisation to deliver urgent medicines to one hospital in Taiz.

Also on Thursday, a resident in the northern province of Hajjah said coalition planes had bombed a small island in the Red Sea close to the port of Midi, killing 10 fishermen.

“They took the bodies back to the harbour. Some others were wounded but we don’t know how many,” the resident said on condition of anonymity.

Air strikes by the Arab coalition have struck civilian targets on at least four different occasions in recent weeks, including a wedding party on Sept. 28 that killed 131 people.

The Houthi-controlled Saba news agency said at least 12 Hadi supporters were killed in an ambush by Houthi fighters in Marib, east of Sanaa. Reuters could not verify the deaths.

At least 5,400 people have been killed since the war began in March. (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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