Yemen: Fighting in Marib intensifies as pro-govt forces defend northern stronghold

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Clashes between the forces belonging to Yemen’s internationally-recognized government and the Iran-backed Houthi militia have intensified in Marib in recent weeks, with officials on both sides recording dozens of deaths.

At least 90 combatants on both warring sides were killed on Saturday, government sources told AFP, as heavy fighting broke out on six fronts in the governorate. Dozens of people were also wounded.

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Iran has backed the Houthis in their war against the Yemeni government, supplying the group with weapons, such as drones and missiles often used to target civilians.

Marib is the last major northern stronghold for pro-government forces and is home to one of Yemen’s largest oil infrastructures.

Cars drive on the road leading Yemen's southern Marib province after crossing the Al-Wadeia checkpoint near the Yemen-Saudi border. (File photo: AFP)
Cars drive on the road leading Yemen's southern Marib province after crossing the Al-Wadeia checkpoint near the Yemen-Saudi border. (File photo: AFP)

The offensive in the area would put hundreds of gas and oil fields at risk of falling under the Iran-backed group’s control.

The governorate has also been a refuge for hundreds of thousands of displaced people who, for years, have taken shelter there away from the war that was once brewing elsewhere in Yemen.

Local officials and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have warned that the escalation has led to a disastrous humanitarian crisis.

“Since the Houthi coup in September 2014, the governorate of Marib has become a home for more than 2 million displaced people who fled the brutality and oppression of the Houthi militia in search of safety,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on February 27.

“Since the beginning of February 2021, Marib has endured the largest and fiercest Houthi offensive in which Houthis used all kinds of heavy weapons, including artillery, drone bombs, and ballistic missiles, and in just one night… the city was hit by 10 ballistic missiles,” the ministry added.

Yemen’s Minister of Information Muamar al-Aryani has also accused the Houthis of using people in displacement camps in Marib as human shields.

A war against the US and its allies

The Arab Coalition and government forces have so far been successful in pushing the Iran-backed group back, but the Houthis have retaliated by intensifying their attacks in the region, and on Saudi Arabia.

Coalition spokesperson Colonel Turki al-Maliki on Sunday said that the militia’s attacks on the Kingdom was a result of the coalition’s “victories” in Marib.

Last month, the Houthi’s top military official Abdullah al-Sharifi told the militia’s al-Masirah TV that the group’s offensive in Marib is a battle against the US and its allies.

“The fight now is not with our brothers, but it is between us and infidelity, America and its allies,” he had said.

The UN’s envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths has condemned the Houthi offensive in Marib and called for negotiations.

“The conflict in Yemen has taken a sharp escalatory turn with [the Houthis’] most recent offensive in Marib governorate. I have condemned this many times since early last year when this offensive operation started, and I will repeat my call now: the attack on Marib must stop. It puts millions of civilians at risk,” Griffiths told the UN Security Council on February 25.

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