Battles rage in northern Yemen despite warnings from UN

Pro-government forces push back Houthi rebels in Jawf, Marib and Bayda provinces

Houthi troops ride on the back of a police patrol truck after participating in a Houthi gathering in Sanaa, Yemen February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been in fierce battles with pro-government forces in northern Yemen this week, despite the UN warning the renewed fighting could derail diplomatic efforts to end the five-year war.

In Al Jawf, pro-government forces retook Al Qaisein area in the northern district of Khab Walshaaf, killing 30 rebels and capturing 40 in a large offensive launched on Wednesday, a military source told The National.

In Bayda, pro-government forces repelled an attack by the Houthis in the eastern Qanyia area on Wednesday, said Mustafa Al Baydani, spokesman for pro-government forces in the province.

They killed 21 rebels and captured 32 after laying siege to a public school the rebels were using as a base.

Mr Al Baydani said government forces launched a counter-attack in which they seized other several areas in eastern Bayda.

Rebels also made gains in Marib, the last government-controlled province in northern Yemen, before being pushed back.

"The Houthi rebels scored a new gain on the Sirwah front in Marib after fierce clashes with the pro-government forces since Monday," a tribal source in the province told The National.

"More than 20 personnel from the pro-government forces and more than 23 Houthi fighters were killed in the battles in western Marib.”

The rebels sent large numbers of reinforcements on Tuesday to Sirwah, which leads to the city of Marib, the source said.

“The Houthi advance in Sirwah was not that big and pro-government forces managed to push the rebel fighters back after more troops arrived from Shabwa, Bayda and Taez provinces on Wednesday,” he said.

The military escalation in the north since last month prompted warnings from the UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, that the country was slipping back towards conflict that would worsen the humanitarian crisis.

Mr Griffiths told the UN Security Council this month that Yemen was at a critical juncture.

He said the warring parties could move towards a de-escalation and resumption of the political process, or towards greater violence and suffering for its people, which would make the path to negotiations more arduous.

“The most alarming military escalation took place in Jawf province," Mr Griffiths said.

"Thousands of families have been displaced by the recent fighting and are in critical need of shelter and assistance."