Yemen’s Houthis increase attacks in bid to seize Marib

Tribal fighters and residents describe assault on strategic province as humanitarian crisis looms

Yemeni fighters leave after clashes with Houthi rebels on the Kassara front line near Marib. AP
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At least 13 Houthi fighters were killed during fierce clashes with tribes in Yemen’s Marib province on Wednesday, tribal sources told The National.

Fighting broke out as the Iran-backed Houthis launched an offensive to recapture Al Rabah in southern Marib, the source said.

Fighting has raged in Marib – a rugged, gas-rich province in Yemen’s north – since the rebels launched an assault to capture the territory in February.

“The battle erupted at 6am and lasted until around 4pm on Wednesday,” said the source.

The Houthis used Iranian-made weapons in the attack, he said.

“The Houthi militia used all kinds of heavy weapons, including Zelzal-3 missiles, a type of long-range missiles we believe are being manufactured by Iranian experts in the Houthi-held areas in north Yemen, in addition to Katyusha rockets and mortars,” the source said.

“The Houthis are desperately pushing back towards the centre of Al Rabah district in a bid to take back control of the main road that links provinces of Marib and Al Bayda.”

The district of Al Rabah was recaptured in July by Murad tribes with the help of the Saudi-led coalition.

The coalition launched air strikes at Houthi reinforcements heading to the front lines in Al Rabah on Wednesday night.

“One Houthi armoured vehicle and three cars carrying supplies were destroyed when the Arab Coalition jets struck them,” said Ahmed Al Muradi, a tribal fighter in the area.

Meanwhile, in western Marib, clashes between Houthi fighters and pro-government forces continued on several fronts for the second week since Eid Al Adha, Marib city residents said.

Tariq Qasim, who lives in the city and took up arms against the Houthis as they began to encircle it, told The National that “fierce confrontations have been raging at the front lines in Al Kassarah, Raghwan and Al Mashgah since the first day of Eid Al Adha”.

“The Houthis launched at least four attacks attempting to make progress towards the city centre, but all their attempts were thwarted by the pro-government forces backed by air strikes from the coalition jets,” Mr Qasim said.

He said the fighting was nearing residential areas, including camps for internally displaced people.

“Rockets and shrapnel repeatedly fell over residential neighbourhoods in the city and over IDP camps in the west and north of the city, killing dozens of civilians,” Mr Qasim said.

Marib city hosts nearly two million refugees who fled the fighting in northern Yemen, including 6,000 African migrants, according to Yemen's IDP executive unit.

The humanitarian crisis in the province of Marib is worsening as the Houthis intensify their attacks around the city, he said.

“The recent escalation in western and northern Marib has caused more than four healthcare centres to suspend services, including two centres in Sirwah district,” he said.

Four IDP camps in the northern city of Sirwah have been evacuated since February, he said.

Since the Houthi offensive to capture Marib began in February, large numbers of internally displaced people in the province have been hit by the devaluation of the local currency, which has caused a sharp rise in the prices of necessities, including food.

“Thousands of families in 115 camps in the province are living on the brink of famine due to the sharp hikes in the price of the food, which coincided with a dramatic decline in the life-saving aid provided by the humanitarian NGOs, including the UN agencies,” said Mohammed Hafeez, a human rights activist in Marib.

The US envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, met Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Saeed on Wednesday to discuss efforts to improve public services.

The two officials condemned the Houthi offensive for exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the country.

Updated: November 01, 2021, 12:55 PM