Dozens killed in central Yemen

SANAA, YEMEN (AP) — Heavy fighting between forces of Yemen’s internationally recognised government and Houthi rebels raged again on Sunday, extending a week of violence in the strategic province of Marib, Yemeni officials said. With dozens killed, the fighting has cast major doubt over United Nations (UN)-led efforts to restart negotiations to end years of civil war.

The Iranian-backed rebels earlier this month renewed their attack on the oil-rich province, an anti-Houthi stronghold held by the internationally recognised government. But they faced stiff resistance and have not made progress amid heavy casualities mostly from the Houthis, military officials from both sides said.

Yemen’s war started in 2014, when the rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. A United States (US)-backed team intervened months later to dislodge the Houthis and restore the internationally recognised government. The conflict has killed some 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

The rebels seek to wrestle control of Marib, closing off Saudi-Arabia’s southern border and taking control of oil fields in the province that would give them leverage in possible peace negotiations.

Alarmed by the Houthis’ renewed push, the coalition bombed their advancing convoys in the sprawling desert around Marib. It also brought in ground enforcements from the government-held provinces of Taiz and Shabwa, the officials said.

Houthi fighters chant slogans for the Houthi movement in Sanaa, Yemen. PHOTO: AP

More than 48 fighters were killed and over 120 were wounded in the past two days, mostly Houthis, the officials said. Over two dozen others were reported killed at the start of the attack, which has mostly centred in the districts of Sorouh and Makhdara, they added.

The fighting in Marib could also thwart renewed efforts by the UN to relaunch negotiations between the warring sides. They have not held substantive negotiations since 2019.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths said last week he was “extremely concerned” about hostilities in Marib, especially at a time of “renewed diplomatic momentum”, in an apparent reference to the latest measures US President Joe Biden’s administration have taken on Yemen’s conflict.

Biden has turned a spotlight on the brutal conflict, declaring earlier this month that the US would end its support of the military offensive. The administration has also moved to lift a terrorist designation against the Houthis, citing the need to mitigate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.