A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia has stepped up its attacks on Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen’s central province of Marib, as its forces draw nearer to the capital San’a.
Coalition-supported anti-rebel forces want to push the Iran-backed Huthi rebels out of Marib province and eventually move on the capital Sanaa which the rebels seized past year .
Almost 4,500 people have been killed in the Yemeni conflict, the World Health Organization said on August 11.
The Arab alliance has waged daily air strikes since March against Al Houthis, who are backed by renegade troops loyal to former autocratic president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Even if they take the provincial capital of Maarib, however, the province seems to still be contested, and the Houthis continue to have forces all around the outskirts, meaning the fighting is likely to continue for quite some time.
The UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, had announced last week that the government and the rebels agreed to attend talks in Oman, the only Gulf Arab state not in the Saudi-led coalition.
The exiled government’s official news agency Saba said it would not join the U.N.-mediated peace talks until the Houthis accepted an April United Nations Security Council resolution calling on them to recognize Hadi and quit Yemen’s main cities.
“They fell during the performance of their duty to protect the borders of the homeland against aggressors along the southern frontier sector of Najran”, said the statement.
Rebel-controlled Saba news agency said the forces had been repelled in Jufeinah and Thatt-Alra, in Marib, with the coalition suffering “heavy losses”.
An Emirati soldier was killed by one such land mine on Monday – the second to die in as many days, bringing the death toll for Emirati forces in Yemen to 54 since September 5, when a missile hit their sprawling Forward Operating Base Saffer.
General Samir Shamfan, commander of the 23rd Mechanised Brigade based in Al-Aber, said about 12,000 soldiers have been assembled in the city some 270 kilometres (170 miles) east of Marib city. “This is a personal thing for the soldiers”.
Saudi Arabia and its allies appear to have gained the upper hand in the almost six-month war since recapturing the southern port of Aden in late July.
Loyalists of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi have been battling the Iran-allied Houthis across Yemen since March, when the group forced him and his administration to flee to Saudi Arabia.