The newly appointed UN special envoy to Yemen has met the Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik and Southern Transitional Council leader Brig Aidarous Al Zubaidi in Aden.
In his first visit to the interim capital of Yemen, Hans Grundberg discussed political developments and the importance of the Riyadh Agreement in delivering stability, basic services and a functional economy.
Earlier on Monday, he visited the Saudi capital, Riyadh, where he met Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan and the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al Jaber.
He also met Yemeni officials, and diplomats from the UN Security Council, the EU and the EU Commission, as well as the Secretary of State for Germany’s foreign office.
While in Riyadh, Mr Grundberg held talks focused on putting an end to the conflict in Yemen and starting a comprehensive peace process in the country.
“Ending the conflict and reaching a comprehensive and inclusive political solution that meets the aspirations of Yemenis should be the primary and urgent objective of all relevant actors. It is a shared responsibility that require everyone’s full commitment to peace efforts,” he said.
Mr Grundberg’s visit to Aden comes as Houthi rebels continue their push towards the oil-rich provinces of Marib and Shabwa.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, more than 40 Houthi fighters and 10 pro-government troops were killed in fierce clashes in the Alfa area in Al Jubah, southern Marib, and in and around Al Khoushaina military base in Malaa Harib, about 60km from Marib city, a pro-government commander told The National.
“The clashes intensified in the southern territory of Marib in the past couple of days after the Houthi rebels pushed new reinforcements from provinces of Amran and Saada attempting to press their offensive towards the oilfields in Safer area western Marib,” said Maj Gen Murad Al Muradi, who is fighting alongside tribes in Al Jubah.
“The tribes bear the brunt in the battle to deter the Houthi assault ... what is happening in southern Marib is a legendary steadfastness by the tribes as the Houthi rebels push waves of fighters continuously attempting to score any progress towards the city centre and towards Safer oilfields.
“The war in Marib will not end soon. It is heading to be a protracted conflict because the tribes will fight the Houthi rebels to the last drop of blood.”
Saudi Coalition jets succeeded in deterring the Houthi push towards Marib city through precise strikes. They caused heavy losses in the ranks of their fighters and destroyed many weapons and large amounts of equipment.
Sheikh Mohammed Al Qardaie, who is leading tribal fighters in southern Marib, told The National: "The coalition aerial cover played a significant role in the battle which has been raging in Al Khoushaina and Al Mala’a mountains between districts of Harib and Al Jubah southern Marib. Hundreds of the Houthi fighters were killed amid the air strikes there.”
The Houthi rebels have continued to impose a siege around Al Abdiyah in southern Marib, where thousands live, to push tribal fighters in the district to surrender.
“The rebels have been imposing a strict siege around Al Abdiyah since September 21. They didn’t allow the humanitarian organisations to have access to 5,143 families (31,480 people) besieged in the area,” said AbdulHakim Al Qaisi, director of the Social Affairs Office in Marib.
The families in Al Abdiyah are suffering “harsh conditions lacking the basic needs for life” in the siege, he said.
Sporadic clashes caused injuries to 135 residents, including 31 women and 17 children, and significant damage to homes.
STC spokesman Ali Al Kathiri however told The National that Yemeni government forces were not doing enough to tackle the Houthis and Marib and were leaving the fighting to local militias. The risk of a Houthi victory in the oil-rich regions was real, he added.
“The STC does not want Marib to fall to the crazy bloodthirsty Houthi militias. But Marib is at risk of falling to the Houthis and if that happens the STC will have a say in what happens next,” Mr Al Kathiri said.
The outcome of the Marib offensive would likely impact the strategy for the STC, which is nominally allied to exiled Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government under the Saudi-led coalition but also seeks independence for the south.
Mohamed Al Ghaithi, the STC’s head of foreign affairs, told The National that southerners were taking “gradual steps” and “progressing quite well on achieving independence”, while carefully monitoring the potentially game-changing Houthi advance to the north.
“It's important that the STC takes into consideration these developments and these complexities and not force something, not to take any one-sided approach right now because it's very complex,” Mr Al Ghaithi said.