15 dead in fighting near Yemen Red Sea port

Pro-government forces advance in Mokha last month as they try to drive Shiite Huthi rebels away from the Red Sea coast

Seven Yemeni soldiers and eight rebels were killed in heavy fighting over the past 24 hours near the Red Sea coastal town of Mokha, medical and security sources said Saturday.

The historic port was captured by government forces on February 10 as part of a major offensive launched in January to try to recapture Yemen's 450 kilometre (280 mile) Red Sea coastline, which had previously been almost entirely in rebel hands.

But there have been repeated clashes over the past month both inland and north of the town as the rebels seek to take it back.

The latest fighting focused on the village of Yakhtul, 14 kilometres (nine miles) north of Mokha, which is currently in government hands.

It came as an air strike on a rebel-held port further north by a Saudi-led coalition supporting the government killed 20 civilians and six rebels.

Friday's strike on the town of Khokha targeted rebel fighters who had taken refuge at the entrance to a market selling the mild narcotic qat, which is a central part of Yemeni social life.

The fighting around Mokha had driven more than 48,000 people from their homes, the Yemen spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, Shabia Mantoo, told AFP earlier this month.