Yemen’s Houthi rebels have wrested control of a strategic city in the country’s north, officials said, in a major blow to the internationally recognised government and the Saudi-led coalition that backs it.
The officials said on Sunday the Shia fighters took control of Hazm, the capital of the province of Jawf, following weeks of fighting between the Iran-aligned group and government forces backed by Saudi-led allies.
The fall of Hazm would pave the way for the rebels to come closer to the central province of Marib, the only safe spot in Yemen for those opposing the Houthis.
Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, has been convulsed by civil war since 2014. The Saudi-led coalition intervened against the Houthis the following year.
The rebels earlier this year seized a key supply line linking Marib with Jawf, located along the border with Saudi Arabia.
A Houthi official said they pushed the government forces out of the city, and are “now chasing them on its outskirts”. Two government officials confirmed the fall of Hazm.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media.
The oil-rich province of Jawf is where the Houthis recently used air defences to shoot down a coalition warplane last month, raising alarm among the Saudi-led camp that the rebels are acquiring advanced weaponry.
The United Nations special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, had on Friday condemned “the recent military escalation” in Jawf.
“Those who seek to gain from this escalation in Jawf are seriously undermining the prospects of peace that the people of Yemen so urgently deserve,” Griffiths said.
He warned the warring parties had “no alternative to a negotiated political settlement” in the drawn-out conflict.
The war in Yemen has killed thousands of people and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine last year.