Coalition ‘kills 160’ Yemen rebels as Marib battle intensifies

Saudi-led coalition says it has killed scores of Houthi rebels in air raids as warring sides battle near strategic city.

A grab from an AFPTV video shows a Yemeni pro-government fighter firing at positions of the Houthi rebels as they inch closer to the loyalists' last northern bastion, the strategic city of Marib [AFPTV/AFP]

The Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s government says it has killed 160 Houthi rebels in air raids south of the strategic city of Marib, where loyalists say rebels have made advances.

“We carried out 32 strikes … in Abdiya over the past 24 hours,” the coalition said on Saturday, as cited by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, adding that “11 military vehicles were destroyed and more than 160 terrorist elements eliminated”.

The rebels rarely comment on reported losses and the toll could not be independently verified.

The coalition has said that since Monday, more than 700 rebels have been killed in air attacks in the battle for Marib.

The Houthis began a major push to seize Marib province in February and, after a lull, they have renewed their offensive in recent weeks.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in the province this year, nearly 10,000 of them in September alone, according to the United Nations migration agency.

Abdiya lies about 100km (60 miles) from Marib city, the internationally recognised government’s last toehold in the north.

Despite the Houthis’ losses in recent days, they are now “at the centre of Abdiya district after a four-week siege”, a loyalist source told AFP news agency.

The official said rebels had “kidnapped, imprisoned and abused” members of Yemeni tribes who supported the pro-government forces.

Hussain al-Bukhaiti, a political analyst aligned with the Houthi movement, told Al Jazeera the rebels continued to advance.

“Most of the fighters advancing towards Marib are from Marib province,” he said. “[The Houthis] are mainly using fighters from the area that they are going to liberate, and this sends a good message. If all the people there were against the [Houthis], I don’t think they could advance one metre.”

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam said on Twitter that the rebels had faced “elements linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, which are linked to the forces of aggression [the coalition]” in Abdiya.

The coalition did not immediately comment on the allegation.

Yemeni Information Minister Moammar al-Eryani accused the rebels of targeting residential areas.

The UN this week called for a halt to fighting in Abdiya, where it said the movement of aid for some 35,000 people has been “extremely restricted”, including for 17,000 “extremely vulnerable” people who found refuge there from conflict in other areas of Yemen.

With about 139 refugee camps in Marib province, according to the government, hosting about 2.2 million people, many displaced civilians have become caught in the line of fire once again.

The Yemeni civil war began in 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, 120km (75 miles) west of Marib, prompting Saudi-led forces to intervene to prop up the government the following year.

Tens of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies