More than 60 killed as renegades inch towards key city in Yemen

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DUBAI: Sixty-seven Yemeni rebels and pro-government troops are killed in fighting for the key city of Marib, military sources said on Monday, because the insurgents inch closer to the loyalists’ last northern bastion.

A volley of air strikes from the Saudi-led coalition targeted the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who have stepped up their assault to seize the capital of the oil-rich Marib province in recent weeks.

Hundreds of fighters have died in clashes this month for Marib, a short lived home for many thousands who fled there from other frontline cities. Over two million more sleep in refugee camps within the province.

“Fifty-eight Houthi insurgents and nine loyalists were killed in fighting and air strikes within the provinces of Marib and Shabwa within the past 24 hours,” military sources said.

The figures were confirmed by medical sources, while the rebels rarely announce their casualties.

According to the military sources the Saudi-led coalition that backs Yemen’s government launched quite 20 air strikes within the past 24 hours.

The strikes “targeted Houthi vehicles, meeting points and reinforcements in Shabwa and Marib,” one source added.

News of the newest escalation was followed by a US announcement that President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, would visit Saudi Arabia within the highest level talks since his administration took office.

The White House didn’t explain on the dates or the character of his message, but said Sullivan would be amid officials including Tim Lenderking, the US special envoy on Yemen.

Biden, shortly after taking office in January, said the us would slash support for the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen. But his administration has been frustrated that the Houthis have shown little interest during a ceasefire and are pursuing their Marib offensive.

The Houthis initially stepped up their efforts to seize Marib in February, hoping to seize control of the region’s oil resources and strengthen their position in peace talks.

Since then, during a major blow to the govt , the insurgents have neared the town on three fronts — from the north, west and south.

Marib, about 120 kilometres east of the rebel-held capital Sanaa, sits at a crossroads between the southern and northern regions and is vital to controlling Yemen’s north.

The rebels already control swathes of the country, and therefore the seizure of Marib would cement their hold on the north.

The city had between 20,000 and 30,000 inhabitants before the war, but its population has ballooned as Yemenis fled there for its relative stability. With about 139 refugee camps within the province, consistent with the govt , hosting approximately 2.2 million people, the displaced civilians are again caught within the line of fireside .

Yemen’s conflict flared in 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa, prompting the Saudi-led intervention to prop the internationally recognised government the subsequent year.

This month marks seven years since the rebels took control of Sanaa, with some analysts saying the balance has tilted in favour of the insurgents against the coalition.

About 80 percent of Yemen’s 30 million people are hooked in to aid, in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

While the UN and therefore the US are pushing for an end to the war, the Houthis have demanded the reopening of Sanaa airport, closed under a Saudi blockade since 2016, before any ceasefire or negotiations.

The last talks happened in Sweden in 2018, when the opposing sides agreed to a mass prisoner swap and to spare the town of Hodeida, where the port is the country’s lifeline.

But despite agreeing to a ceasefire in Hodeida, violent clashes have since broken out between the rebels and pro-government troops round the strategic city.

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