Houthis advance in Shabwa and Marib as fighting intensifies in Yemen

Iran-backed Houthis were now in control of the Assilan, Bayhan and Ain districts in Shabwa as well as the Abdiya and Harib districts in Marib, said local officials and residents.

A fighter loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed government mans a position near the frontline facing Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the country’s northeastern province of Marib, on October 17, 2021. (AFP)

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement said it has seized new territory in the energy-rich provinces of Shabwa and Marib, gains confirmed by sources, as it presses an offensive likely to further complicate international peace efforts.

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Military spokesman Yahia Sarea said Houthi rebels, who are battling a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, had taken three districts in Shabwa in southern Yemen and two more in Marib, the Saudi-backed government’s last northern stronghold.

Marib has Yemen’s biggest gas fields, while Shabwa has several oil fields and the country’s sole liquefied natural gas terminal.

Local authorities and residents confirmed the Houthis were now in control of the Assilan, Bayhan and Ain districts in Shabwa as well as the Abdiya and Harib districts in Marib, where fighting is still raging in al Jubah and Jabal Murad.

This leaves the internationally recognised government – based in the south after the Houthis ousted it from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014 – in control of Marib City and one other district.

Sarea said in a televised statement that Houthi forces would continue to “liberate and cleanse” Marib and called on “mercenaries and agents in Marib City” to quit the coalition.

‘Indiscriminate shelling’

The Houthis “are committing genocide” in Abdiya, preventing food, medicine and other basic needs from reaching the district, said Marib provincial Governor Sheikh Sultan al Aradah.

Two UN aid workers said the Houthis have blocked humanitarian aid to the district and restricted people’s movement there for around three weeks.

They said several thousand people have been displaced amid indiscriminate shelling and missile attacks on residential buildings and infrastructure in Abdiya.

The blockade also prevented the transfer of wounded and other patients out of the district, the workers said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to brief media.

Coalition: 165 rebels killed

The Saudi-led military coalition supporting Yemen’s government said on Sunday it had killed at least 165 Houthi rebels in strikes south of Marib.

The strikes “destroyed 10 military vehicles and killed more than 165” rebels in the past 24 hours in the Abdiya district, the coalition said in a statement cited by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The coalition has said it has killed around 1,000 rebels in strikes in the area in the past week, making daily announcements of at least dozens of rebel deaths.

The Houthis rarely comment on losses and the tolls could not be independently verified.

Rebels reject US call to halt assault

The US State Department on Saturday condemned the Houthi escalation in Marib as a “flagrant disregard for the safety of civilians”.

“We call on the Houthis to stop their offensive on Marib, and listen to the urgent calls from across Yemen and the international community to bring this conflict to an end and support a UN-led inclusive peace process,” the State Department said in a statement.

However, Houthi rebels on Sunday rejected the US call.

In a tweet, rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam argued that the Houthis were fighting al Qaeda and Daesh militants in Abdiya district in Marib.

The Saudi-led alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 but the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and caused a dire humanitarian crisis, has been in military stalemate for years.

The United Nations says nearly 10,000 people were displaced in Marib last month alone.

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