SANAA // Yemen’s Houthi rebels fired Katyusha rockets at a busy market in the eastern city of Marib on Friday, killing at least 20 people.
“Twenty civilians were killed and dozens were wounded,” a medical official said. Witnesses said the provincial capital’s market was the target.
Last week, 60 coalition troops, including 45 Emirati soldiers, were killed in a rocket attack in Marib. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition of countries, including the UAE, is battling the Iran-backed Houthis who unseated the internationally recognised government earlier this year.
In July, government loyalists aided by coalition troops liberated the port city of Aden and have continued to make advances against the rebels.
Friday’s attack in Marib came as Yemen’s government in exile, based in Riyadh, said that it would join UN-mediated peace talks next week in Oman.
The UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said on Thursday that the government and Houthis had agreed to take part in peace talks that would “convene in the region next week”.
Oman, the only Gulf Cooperation Council member not part of the coalition, hosted talks between the rebels and a US delegation before a previous, failed round of UN-brokered negotiations in Geneva in June.
But in the absence of an announcement about the talks from the Houthis, Yemeni government spokesman Rajih Badi was unsure the rebels would attend. The talks “may not take place”, he said.
The government of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi has insisted that a rebel pullback from areas seized since last year remained a precondition for negotiations. The coalition backing Mr Hadi has waged daily air strikes against the rebels, who are backed by troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
On Friday, UAE fighter jets launched air strikes against Houthi military targets and strongholds in Marib, as well as in the capital Sanaa and the provinces of Shabwa, Al Bayda, Lahij and Taez. All of the jets returned safely to their bases.
Gulf Arab members of the coalition, in which Emirati ground forces are also playing a major role, have reportedly already sent thousands of heavily armed reinforcements to Yemen, mainly to Marib, since last week in preparation for the push on the capital Sanaa.
The exiled government has also announced that 10,000 Yemeni fighters are now ready to serve in a “national army being prepared to liberate Sanaa and other provinces”.
The coalition sent more military vehicles and troops across the border into Yemen on Friday in preparation for the offensive in Sanaa.
At least 40 coalition military vehicles crossed over into Marib from Saudi Arabia. The vehicles were carrying Yemeni troops trained in Saudi Arabia as well as coalition troops whose nationality military officials in the area declined to specify. Among the reinforcements was a Gulf-trained unit of Yemeni forces loyal to Mr Hadi.
Military sources in Marib said that the coalition’s Apache helicopters were also taking part in the battle against rebels in the province.
“Preparations are ongoing for large-scale military operations to liberate the provinces of Marib and Jawf (in the north) in order to enter Sanaa,” which the rebels seized a year ago, one of the Yemeni military officials said.
The attack on the market in Marib came hours after a Saudi Arabia-led coalition air raid killed seven rebels in Marib, where Apache helicopters have also joined the fight against Houthi insurgents and their allies.
The coalition strike targeted a military vehicle used by the rebels in Marib province, while other air raids targeted rebel positions in neighbouring Shabwa, military sources said. Coalition warplanes also struck an arms depot in Sanaa, triggering powerful explosions that killed at least seven civilians and wounded 10, witnesses and medics said.
The UN estimates that more than 4,500 people have been killed in the Yemeni conflict since March.
* Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Wam