UN describes ‘dramatic deterioration’ as Yemen’s Houthis advance on Marib

The Biden administration’s efforts to end Yemen’s war have yet to achieve significant gains

FILE PHOTO: Armed Houthi followers ride on the back of a truck after participating in a funeral of Houthi fighters killed in recent fighting against government forces in Yemen's oil-rich province of Marib, in Sanaa, Yemen February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo
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The UN’s envoy to Yemen has warned of a “dramatic deterioration” in the country’s six-year-old war, with a Houthi rebel assault on government-held Marib risking the lives of more than one million internally displaced people.

Martin Griffiths slammed the Houthi rebels for mass casualties and a recent spate of missile and drone strikes on neighbouring Saudi Arabia, while also urging Yemen’s UN-recognised government to let much-needed fuel reach Houthi-held areas.

He spoke as the group continued their push towards the oil-producing region of Marib, aiming to take the government's last stronghold in the north of the country but threatening the safety of Yemenis displaced by earlier waves of fighting.

The Houthi “offensive on Marib governorate continues, putting civilians, including an estimated one million internally displaced persons, at risk,” Mr Griffiths told the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

“Fighting forces on both sides have suffered heavy losses. I see shocking reports of children increasingly getting drawn into the war effort and deprived of their future.”

Still, Mr Griffiths described “renewed vigour” and a “great deal more hope” in peace efforts since the US Biden administration appointed Tim Lenderking as its point man in Yemen.

Mr Griffiths urged all parties to “silence the guns” and return to the negotiating table.

“A nationwide ceasefire, along with opening Sanaa airport and ensuring the unhindered flow of fuel and other commodities into Yemen through Hodeidah ports, are urgent humanitarian imperatives,” said Mr Griffiths.

The campaign group Human Rights Watch on Tuesday blamed a March 7 fire that killed dozens of migrants at a detention centre in the capital Sanaa on “unidentified projectiles” launched by the rebel Houthis.

At least 60 migrants, most of them Ethiopian, died in the incident, the group said. Detainees were protesting about overcrowding when camp guards rounded up hundreds of them into a hangar and fired projectiles into the building.

“The Houthis’ reckless use of weapons that led to scores of Ethiopian migrants burning to death is a horrific reminder of the dangers migrants face in war-torn Yemen,” the group’s researcher Nadia Hardman said in a statement.

“The Houthi authorities need to hold those responsible to account and stop holding migrants in abysmal detention facilities where their lives and well-being are at risk.”

Mr Griffiths called for an “independent investigation” into the blaze.

Fighting erupted in the Arab world’s poorest nation in 2014, when Iran-aligned Houthis seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s population centres in the north, prompting an Arab military coalition bombing campaign the following year.

The grinding war has killed some 130,000 people and displaced millions, according to international monitors. Donors stumped up barely half of the $3.85 billion requested by the UN at a donor meeting this month and the country is on the brink of famine.