AL-MUKALLA: More than 100 were killed in 48 hours of fierce clashes in Yemen as government troops battled fighters of the Iran-backed Houthi militia for control of the key province of Marib, a Yemen army spokesman said on Sunday.
Counter-attacking Yemeni army forces and allied tribesmen, backed by Arab coalition warplanes, targeted the Houthis in contested areas of the province — Al-Jeda’n, Serwah, Murad, Al-Mashjah and Helan.
The attack particularly centered on Murad Mountain and Al-Jeda’n, killing, wounding and capturing dozens of rebels and forcing the Houthis away from strategic locations near Marib city, Gen. Abdu Abdullah Majili, Yemen’s army spokesman, told Arab News.
“The national army troops and the tribesmen have taken the upper hand on the battlefields of Murad Mountain and Al-Jeda’n, where they assaulted the Houthis and managed to seize control of new areas as well as weapons,” Majili said. Government forces were still on the defensive in Serwah district, battling relentless Houthi assaults, he said.
The Houthis have been trying to capture Marib, which has extensive oil and gas reserves, since January last year.
They resumed their offensive last week, in what analysts believe is an attempt to gain territory as leverage amid growing international pressure for a cease-fire and talks to find a diplomatic solution. If they capture Marib the Houthis will have full control of north Yemen, weakening the government’s negotiating position.
Gen. Majili said the latest attacks were more aggressive than before, and the Houthis seemed more determined to capture Marib despite suffering heavy defeats.
“The national army is fighting off continuing attacks by the Houthis. We have foiled all of their suicidal attacks,” Majili said.
The government official did not give an exact figure for government forces killed in the fighting, only saying that a number were “martyred.”
Official media outlets have said over the last couple of days that Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his Deputy Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmer have mourned the death of several army commanders who were killed in fighting in Marib.
In a bid to woo the Yemeni army commanders and tribal leaders in Marib to switch sides, Abdullah Yahya Al-Hakim, head of the Houthis’ military intelligence, said on Saturday that the movement would pardon their enemies who desert the city.
He added that they pushed toward Marib to punish government forces for “kidnapping” women, in reference to the eight female Houthi spies who were arrested in Marib last month.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s Foreign Ministry has repeated its call to the international community and the UN to condemn the Houthi attacks on Marib, government-controlled areas in Hodeidah and Saudi Arabia, stressing that the Houthis are contradicting their commitments to peace initiatives and previous agreements.
“Houthi violations in Hodeidah and attacks on Marib, which is a shelter for millions of internally displaced people fleeing Houthi oppression, coincide with their continued targeting of Saudi Arabia. It all confirms again how Houthis don’t care about agreements and seeking peace,” the ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
Yemen’s Foreign Ministry repeated its call to the international community and the UN to condemn Houthi attacks on Marib, Hodeidah and Saudi Arabia.
“Houthi violations in Hodeidah and attacks on Marib, which is a shelter for millions of internally displaced people fleeing Houthi oppression, coincide with their continued targeting of Saudi Arabia,” the ministry said. “It confirms again that the Houthis don’t care about agreements and seeking peace.”
Saudi air defenses intercepted and destroyed two more Houthi armed drones fired on Sunday toward the southern town of Khamis Mushait. On Saturday, the Kingdom thwarted a Houthi drone attack on Abha airport, days after a drone strike set a civilian plane on fire.