Saudi troops deployed to Marib as fears of famine mount
ADEN – The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has redeployed troops to the Marib region and increased air strikes to try to repel an advance by the Iran-aligned Houthi militias, sources in the military and the internationally recognised government said.
Fighting in the gas-producing region has escalated as the Houthis try to take Marib city, the government’s last stronghold in the north of Yemen.
The fighting threatens to displace hundreds of thousands and complicate renewed US and UN efforts to find a political solution to the more than six-year-old civil war in Yemen.
A government source in Marib and a military source said that hundreds of fighters had arrived from Hadramaut and Shabwa in the south, where the Saudi-backed government is based, and from the suburbs of the northern Sana’a province.
One resident said military reinforcements passed through Marib on Thursday and that coalition warplanes had carried out several airstrikes.
Clashes could be heard from the frontline about 30km (18 miles) to the west of the city, the resident added.
The Yemeni army said in a Twitter post on Thursday that coalition air raids had destroyed a Houthi missile launching pad in Makhdara, west of Marib city, and four ballistic missiles.
The United States urged the Houthis on Tuesday to halt their offensive and join international efforts to end the conflict, widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Echoing the US appeal, the UN’s Yemen mediator Martin Griffiths said on Thursday “the quest for territorial gain by force threatens all of the prospects of the peace process.”
The Houthis ousted the government from power in the capital, Sana’a, in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene months later. The Houthis deny being puppets of Iran and say they are fighting a corrupt system.
On Thursday, the Houthi-run Al Masirah channel said the movement’s interior minister had ordered a wide deployment of security forces and rescue workers in Marib “to match military victories with security victories by protecting citizens.”
Around 80% of Yemen’s population relies on aid and millions are on the verge of famine.
Top UN officials told the Security Council on Thursday that a massive famine could wipe out a new opportunity, created by renewed US engagement, to end the war in Yemen.
“There’s an important opportunity right now to help Yemen move towards lasting peace… but that opportunity will disappear, it will be wasted, if Yemen tips into a massive famine,” UN aid chief Mark Lowcock warned.
Lowcock said some $4 billion was needed in 2021 to fund humanitarian operations as “Yemen is speeding towards the worst famine the world has seen in decades.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Switzerland and Sweden plan to convene a pledging conference on March 1 to raise funds for Yemen.
When famine loomed in 2019, Lowcock said it was averted after the United Nations received about 90% of the $4 billion it requested. But last year the world body only received about $1.9 billion, about half of what it needed.
Lowcock said some 16 million people in Yemen were going hungry and 5 million of those people are “just one step away from famine.”
Some 400,000 children under the age of 5 are severely malnourished, he said. “Those children are in their last weeks and months,” he warned. “They are starving to death.”