AL-MUKALLA: A Houthi offensive on the central Yemeni city of Marib is threatening to ruin current prisoner swap talks between the government and the militia, a minister said on Monday.
The UN-brokered talks, which resumed last month in Amman, are aimed at freeing 301 prisoners on both sides.
“The Houthi offensive has negatively impacted the talks and threatens to ruin them,” Majed Fadhail, deputy minister of human rights and a member of the government delegation in the talks, told Arab News.
He said that Houthi representatives had become more intransigent and refused to comply with demands to offer concessions, including releasing high-profile government prisoners and journalists.
Local army officials believe that warring factions have detained hundreds of people during the latest uptick in fighting in Marib province over the last 15 days.
“The Houthi militia’s arrogance and intransigence during talks have increased and they (have) sought to obstruct this file. As long as there is a war, the number of prisoners will keep increasing,” Fadhail added.
More than 1,000 prisoners were released in October during the previous successful prisoner exchange between the government and the Houthis, sparking hopes of a comprehensive peace deal to end the war.
Fighting in Marib subsided on Monday, with the Houthis pausing their assault after suffering heavy loss of life and property. Official Houthi media showed large funeral processions for fighters in Sana’a and other rebel-controlled areas.
“The fighting has subsided in almost all flashpoints in Marib (province) after the national army and the tribesmen thwarted Houthi attempts to advance,” a local military officer told Arab News on condition of anonymity, adding that over 300 Houthis had been killed in more than a week.
Dozens of government troops, including several army commanders, were killed in Marib during the past 48 hours. State media on Monday announced the death of Brig. Mohammed Al-Asoudi, the commander of Brigade 203, who was killed.
Earlier this month the Houthis mounted a major offensive to seize control of Marib city, which is the government’s last northern stronghold and has Yemen’s richest oil and gas fields.
But, despite the attacks and heavy shelling, the Houthis have largely failed to make any gains and suffered massive casualties.
The fighting has forced hundreds of people to flee their homes, shattering hopes for resuming direct peace talks between the warring factions under UN supervision.
During a meeting with the French ambassador to Yemen in Riyadh on Monday, Yemen’s foreign minister said the Houthi offensive on Marib would worsen the dire humanitarian situation in the city as it hosted millions who had fled fighting in their home provinces.