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Oct 3, 9:23 AM EDT

Yemen's prime minister visits Bab al-Mandab strait

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SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Yemen's prime minister visited an area leading to the Bab al-Mandab strait, the strategic southern entrance to the Red Sea and the gateway to the Suez Canal, after anti-rebel forces pushed Shiite rebels out of the immediate area, government spokesman Rajeh Badi said Saturday.

Prime Minister Khaled Bahah's visit comes amid continuing clashes with rebels, known as Houthis, in surrounding areas, said Badi. Pro-government forces launched the attack Thursday against the Houthis, who have controlled the area near the strait for several months.

The Houthis have been in control of the capital Sanaa since last September and are at war with the internationally recognized government as well as southern separatists, local militias and Sunni extremists.

Military officials from the anti-rebel forces say their fighters advanced with air and naval support from a Saudi-led coalition that has been bombing Houthi positions.

Security officials close to the pro-government forces and medical officials say 55 pro-government fighters were killed in the battle that began Thursday.

As the pro-government forces advanced, bodies believe to be of Houthi fighters and destroyed weaponry were seen scattered around the area.

Houthi officials said their forces have repelled attacks against their positions in the area.

The U.N. says at least 2,355 civilians have been killed in fighting in Yemen since March, when a Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes against Houthis and allied army units.

Saudi and Egyptian warships have been deployed off the coast of Yemen to secure the strategically vital Bab el-Mandab. The strait is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, a major route for oil from the Gulf and cargo between Europe and Asia.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

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