The fall of Marib to the Iran-backed Houthi rebels would mark the end of Yemen's peace process, Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak said on Sunday.
The rebels began a major push towards the northern city, a government stronghold, in February. It has become the main focal point of the war as it hosts more than two million internally displaced people, almost 70 per cent of the total displaced in Yemen.
“The fall of Marib won't only lead to a horrific humanitarian situation it will also mark the end of the political and peace process in Yemen,” Mr Mubarak said at an event organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Mr Mubarak said a takeover of Marib would unleash a disaster on a par with the collapse of the city's ancient dam that destroyed the kingdom of Saba.
In the Quran, the dam collapses and causes flooding that decimated its ancient kingdom.
“We will undoubtedly say that if the Houthis control Marib, it will be as bad as when its historically famous dam was destroyed,” Mr Mubarak said.
“Today, Marib is the impenetrable wall for Yemen.”
Taking control of Marib would present major gains for the rebels as it is home to oil and gasfields in which international firms including Exxon Mobil and Total SA have interests.
Marib’s natural gas bottling plant produces cooking gas for the nation of 29 million people. Its power plant once provided 40 per cent of Yemen’s electricity.
The push to take Marib by the rebels has become “a strategic priority for the Iranian regime and its tools in the region”, said Mr Mubarak.
Without changing the facts on the ground, the Houthis will not come to the table, said the top Yemeni minister.
“Having a functioning government from Aden serving all Yemenis, unifying all forces and defending Marib will be the main points to pushing the peace process forward,” he said.
Mr Mubarak said there is no alternative to peace in Yemen.
“The war must end today rather than tomorrow,” he said.
“The danger has widened. It makes no doubt that the failure of the Iranian project in Yemen will ensure the failure of the Iranian project and the entire region.
“Its success in Yemen will usher in a new phase of conflict and lead to another cycle of violence.”
Stalled peace process
Mr Mubarak told the audience that although the government appreciates efforts towards peace that the international community has made in Yemen through the years, the mistake was viewing the war as a humanitarian crisis only.
“One of the mistakes we all made was that the Yemeni crisis was seen as a humanitarian crisis, that was the driver of any initiative, but we never approached the problem itself,” he said.
“Most of the talks were focused on a process rather than being result orientated.”
Mr Mubarak said the political roots of the war must be addressed to achieve a just, comprehensive and sustainable peace.