A World Food Program ship carrying badly needed aid arrived in Yemen's war-torn southern city of Aden on Tuesday, the first vessel chartered by the U.N. agency to berth there since Saudi-led airstrikes on Shiite rebels in the country began in March.

In a statement, the WFP says the ship that arrived Tuesday carries 3,000 metric tons (3,300 tons) of food for people in contested southern governorates.

"This is a major breakthrough for our humanitarian response," WFP regional director Muhannad Hadi said. "While we have been able to reach several southern areas by land, docking at the port of Aden allows us to accelerate our response to meet urgent needs."

The group had tried repeatedly to send ships to Aden, but all had been previously blocked by severe fighting in the port area.

The fighting in Yemen pits the Houthis and troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants and loyalists of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is now based in Saudi Arabia.

The rebels seized Sanaa in September. Fierce fighting in Aden broke out in March, sparking the Saudi-led airstrikes. More than 1,670 civilians have been killed since then, United Nations agencies say.

On the ground, fighting continues. Security officials and witnesses said that battles just east of Aden killed some 20 rebels and around 10 of their adversaries. Coalition aircraft launched dozens of raids north of the city, destroying tanks and Katyusha rocket launchers.

The governor of Aden, Nayef al-Bakri, said pro-Hadi army units and local allies had managed to take full control of the city, adding that authorities were working to restore basic utilities.

In a statement, he said that Aden was now preparing to absorb the incoming aid ships, and that a technical team from the United Arab Emirates was working to repair and reopen its international airport.

Another aid ship, from UAE, also arrived in Aden later in the day, carrying 2,315 tons (2,100 metric tons) of medical and food aid, security and shipping officials said, adding that oil had arrived at the port for the city's refinery.

Ground operations to push the rebels further north from Aden continued Tuesday, the officials added, with missiles, ground forces and airstrikes blasting rebel strongholds.

Also Tuesday, the UAE's military said that a non-commissioned officer, Saif Youssef Ahmed al-Falasi, was killed while taking part in the Saudi-led operation in Yemen. The announcement, carried by state news agency WAM, did not disclose the cause of death or provide further details.

The Gulf nation last week announced the death of another soldier participating in the operation, 1st Lt. Abdulaziz Sarhan Saleh al-Kaabi.

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Associated Press writer Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.