JEDDAH: Air strikes on Saturday by Saudi-led coalition warplanes halted a tank and infantry offensive in Marib by the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen.
The coalition said it launched the air strikes to “thwart the Houthi militia’s attempt to advance toward Marib in Al-Kasrah,” northwest of Marib city, the Yemeni government’s last remaining stronghold in the north. It said it had destroyed Houthi military equipment, including tanks, and had inflicted “heavy losses.”
A Yemeni government official said the coalition had launched at least 20 strikes. “The rebels launched a violent attack, including with tanks, in Al-Kasrah and the attack was thwarted with aerial support from the coalition,” the official said.
“In the past 48 hours at least 70 fighters were killed, including 22 from the government forces, and dozens were injured in clashes.”
Analysts say the Houthis have stepped up their offensive in Marib in an attempt to capture territory as leverage in eventual peace talks.
Loss of the city would be a blow for the Yemeni government, but would also threaten catastrophe for civilians, including at least 1 million displaced people sheltering in the region, many in desolate camps in the surrounding desert.
However, analysts also say the city is unlikely to fall to the Houthis, because of the coalition’s overwhelming aerial firepower.
Meanwhile, the Iran-backed militia on Saturday continued its attacks on Saudi civilians. The coalition intercepted and destroyed an armed drone carrying explosives over the southern Saudi city of Khamis Mushayt.
The coalition said it was taking “all operational measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure against terrorist attacks.”
The attack followed a Houthi armed drone attack on Friday targeting an oil refinery in Riyadh, the second major attack this month on Saudi energy infrastructure. Friday’s attack drew widespread international condemnation that continued on Saturday.
“These aggressions must stop,” the EU said. “The ongoing escalation in and around Yemen is undermining the efforts of the UN special envoy, delaying the prospect of a solution to the conflict, and increasing regional instability,” it said.
Russia also condemned the refinery attack on Saturday, and urged “all parties to the conflict in Yemen to strictly abide by the provisions of international humanitarian law.”
Moscow called on all sides to “immediately and completely abandon military operations that lead to the destruction of civilian infrastructure and casualties among the civilian population.”