Houthi militias in Yemen have sustained more than 130 casualties during heavy Saudi air force strikes around the northern city of Marib, the coalition led by the kingdom said.
Meanwhile, a Houthi projectile — possibly a drone or a missile — struck a petrol station south of the city, killing “dozens” of civilians.
Marib, a strategically important trading centre, is now almost surrounded by the Iran-backed rebels following an offensive that began in February.
The ancient city, which is now the scene of some of the worst violence in the course of the seven-year war, is located on a network of roads which could give the militants several options for advancing further south.
Marib is in an oil-rich area of the country and is home to Yemen’s only oil refinery, although it remains to be seen whether the group could make use of the region's oil if it captures the infrastructure.
The Houthis have been deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure with drone and ballistic missile strikes.
Petrol station destroyed
On Wednesday, it was reported that the Houthi projectile struck the petrol station in Al Jumah.
“Dozens of drivers were filling their cars at a fuel station owned by Al Husein bin Ahmed at the Jabal Murad intersection, near the power station of Al Jubah district. They were killed when a Houthi missile struck the station, causing tremendous devastation,” Hamza Al Muradi, a resident from Jabal Murad told The National.
“Many people were killed and others were injured.
“Many vehicles were burnt up by the missile strike, as well as a grocery store near the station,” he added.
The attack occurred as fighting between Houthi rebels and pro-government troops raged in the districts of Al Jubah and Al Abdiyah in southern Marib on Tuesday.
“Clashes fiercely erupted when Houthi rebels pushed waves of fighters attempting to take control of the centre of Al Jubah district, while the pro-government troops and the tribes launched a counter attack and pushed them back later on Tuesday,” a tribal source based in Al Jubah told The National.
“The coalition jets launched over 30 strikes, the majority targeting Houthi gatherings in Al Abdiyah, which has been under Houthi siege for nearly three weeks " the tribal source added
“Houthi militias have been imposing a strict siege around the district of Al Abdiyah, attempting to push tribal fighters to surrender,” a government official in Marib told The National last week.
AbdulHakim Al Qaisi, director of the government's Social Affairs Office in Marib, said: “The rebels have been imposing a strict siege around Al Abdiyah since September 21. They didn’t allow humanitarian organisations to have access to 5,143 families besieged in the area.”
Families in Al Abdiyah are suffering “harsh conditions lacking the basic necessities for life” he said.
Houthis vulnerable from the air
Houthi pickup lorries, the workhorse of the movement’s fighters, are highly visible from the air in the open, rocky terrain around the city, kicking up columns of dust as they move from position to position.
“We targeted nine military vehicles of the Houthi militia in Abdiya, and their losses exceeded 134 members,” said a coalition statement carried by official Saudi media.
Air strikes in the preceding days had killed 150 Houthi fighters, the Saudi Arabian-led coalition said.
The rebels rarely announce casualties in their own ranks.
Yemen has been devastated by the seven-year war pitting the Houthi rebels against the government, which is supported by a Saudi-led military coalition.
The rebels overran the national capital Sanaa in 2014, prompting the Saudi-led intervention to prop up the government the following year.
Tens of thousands have been killed and millions displaced since then. Many fled to Marib, the population of which has ballooned since the war began.