AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthis have intensified their attacks on residential areas in the central Yemeni province of Marib, government officials said on Wednesday.
Influential tribes in Marib are opposed to Houthi rule, and the province is home to oil, gas and electricity facilities, so it has become a strategic target for the Iran-backed militia, which has launched ground assaults on the area as well as missile and drone attacks.
A densely populated residential area of Marib was hit by one of the Houthi missile strikes on Tuesday, Yemen’s Defense Ministry said. Images posted on official media showed a cloud of smoke billowing from the targeted area, but there was no official information about casualties. Last week, two children were wounded in a Houthi missile attack on another residential area of Marib.
The Defence Ministry linked the increase in Houthi missile attacks on Marib to setbacks the rebels had suffered on the frontlines in northern Yemen.
Yemen Information Minister Muammar Al-Iryani said that the shelling of residential areas is a violation of international laws.
“The Houthi terrorist militia continues to deliberately target civilians and residential areas in Marib with an Iranian-made ballistic missile that hit, on Tuesday evening, civilians ... in a flagrant violation of international laws,” the minister wrote on Twitter.
Yemeni army commanders claim that hundreds of Houthis have been killed or injured in fighting or airstrikes around Marib over the last two months. Soldiers told Arab News that the current focus of the fierce fighting is Qania, on the border between Marib and Al-Bayda, where the Houthis face stiff resistance from local tribesmen.
“The tribesmen have foiled all Houthi attempts to make gains on the battlefields,” a Yemeni soldier who asked to remain anonymous said, adding that the Houthis have dispatched reinforcements to Marib to shore up their depleted forces.
Houthi media outlets showed footage of Abu Ali Al-Makim, a senior Houthi military commander, meeting with allied tribal leaders who vowed to back the rebels’ offensive on Marib. Yemeni government officials said the army and local tribesmen would fight off Houthi attacks on Marib.
“Marib is safe and (it) stands firm against Houthi aggression that failed to make progress thanks to the steadfastness and sacrifices of the army and Marib tribes,” Al-Iryani said on Twitter, adding that the Houthis have not gained any ground around Marib for four years.
Yemeni activists and analysts have warned that a Houthi invasion of Marib would put the lives of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDP) at risk and would undermine the security and stability the city has enjoyed over the past several years.
“There are (more than a million) IDPs currently in Marib. This will be another humanitarian crisis on top of the many humanitarian issues in the country,” Summer Nasser, a Yemeni commentator based in the United States and the CEO of Yemen Aid, said on Twitter.
Analysts also urged the UN’s Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths to step in and pressure the Houthis to halt attacks on Marib, warning that the fighting would hamper efforts to tackle COVID-19.
“Houthi ballistic missiles have been raining down on Marib. They’ve been relentlessly trying to capture the province, putting millions of civilians at grave risk in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak,” Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst, said on Twitter on Wednesday.