Calls for ceasefire in Yemen’s Marib as fighting escalates

Violence threatens hundreds of thousands of civilians in conflict area, Red Cross says

A fighter with forces loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government holds a position against Huthi rebels in Yemen's northeastern province of Marib, on April 6, 2021. Yemen's Iran-backed Huthi rebels have for over a year had their sights on seizing Marib, the capital of an oil-rich region, with the aim of controlling the country's entire north.
After a period of relative calm, the Huthis launched in February 2021, a fierce offensive to take Marib from the government, which is backed by Saudi-led military coalition that intervened in Yemen's civil war in 2015. 
 / AFP / STR
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The Red Cross called for a ceasefire in Yemen’s Marib so it can retrieve the bodies of those killed in clashes over the key city.

The spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen, Basheer Omar, told The National that the violence raging in Marib city, the provincial capital of the region in Yemen's west, posed a danger to the hundreds of thousands of civilians who there.

“If the looming battle continues and reaches the city centre, then 350,000 residents will flee,” he said.

Fighting has raged around the government-held city since February, when the Iran-backed Houthi rebels launched a campaign to try to take the oil-rich region from the government.

Thousands of civilians living in camps for internally displaced people have already had to flee again as the fighting approached the city, Mr Omar said.

“Civilians in Marib have been suffering a lot,” he said. “They need life-saving aid and medical assistance.”

Mr Omar urged the parties in the conflict to make safe corridors to allow civilians to escape the fighting, and to protect vital infrastructure such as dams, power plants and the water network.

The fighting was also preventing access to battlefield casualties. Mr Omar said the ICRC had called for a truce to allow its teams to recover the bodies of soldiers and civilians killed in the conflict.

“We urge the conflict parties to agree to a ceasefire to allow our teams, along with the teams of the Yemen Red Crescent Society to get access to these areas to help provide humanitarian help to those in need and to retrieve the dead bodies,” he said.

“Retrieving the corpses of those killed in the clashes, whether they are civilians or fighters from both parties, is at the core of our work.”

He said ICRC teams had reached some victims of the fighting, but had not gained access to the front lines in Al Mashjah and Al Kassara, to the city’s north-west.

Battles raged around Marib at the weekend, killing at least 76 Houthi fighters, a pro-government representative told The National on Sunday.

Intense fighting continued for the third day in Al Mashjah and Al Kassara, as Houthi fighters continued to push towards the centre of Marib. The Saudi-led coalition had supported a ceasefire as the kingdom announced a diplomatic initiative to end the conflict, but the rebels rejected it.

A tribal leader defending the city from the Houthis, Mohammed Al Qardaie, told The National the rebels had been trying to sever the main supply route connecting Marib and Al Mashjah but had suffered heavy losses.

"They push hundreds of their fighters into the death traps every day," said Mr Al Qardaie, who was leading his troops on the front lines at Murad, to Marib's south.

“Pro-government forces will be able to deter the Houthi offensive and change the course of the battle once they are reorganised,” he said.

A fighter with forces loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government holds a position against Huthi rebels in Yemen's northeastern province of Marib, on April 6, 2021. Yemen's Iran-backed Huthi rebels have for over a year had their sights on seizing Marib, the capital of an oil-rich region, with the aim of controlling the country's entire north.
After a period of relative calm, the Huthis launched in February 2021, a fierce offensive to take Marib from the government, which is backed by Saudi-led military coalition that intervened in Yemen's civil war in 2015. 
 / AFP / STR

The city’s defences, he said, had been bolstered by refugees joining the ranks against the rebel attack.

"The Houthis will not take over the city even if they tighten the noose around it, because the city hosts millions of internally displaced people who have started mobilising to defend it," Mr Al Qardaie said.

In the refugee camps to Marib’s north, panic set in as the front lines drew closer.

Residents in Al Mail camp told The National the sounds of war were traumatising internally displaced refugees.

“We hear the sounds of the explosions and the bombardment very clearly at night,” said Tariq Saeed, who lives in the camp north-west of Marib.

“This has been causing panic, especially among women and the children, who are upset and kept awake all night once the battles intensify.”

The ICRC is establishing its own office in Marib province to allow it to help those affected by the latest outbreak of violence. It says it distributed aid to 9,000 people in the province.

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