Renewed fighting in Yemen clouds diplomatic peace efforts
Soldiers killed as clashes erupt after new attack by the Houthis in Marib province, reports say.
A new bout of front-line fighting in Yemen has disrupted diplomatic efforts to expand a United Nations-brokered truce deal that has largely held since its expiry six months ago.
Military and government sources told news agencies that the clashes erupted late on Tuesday when the Houthi rebels, who control most of northern Yemen, launched an attack on Harib district, in the oil-rich Marib province.
The Houthis “made progress on that front, causing the displacement of dozens of families”, one of the sources told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“At least 10 soldiers were killed, in addition to an unknown number of attackers,” the source added.
Separate sources cited by Reuters said the number of casualties in the fighting was unknown.
There was no immediate comment by the Houthis.
Yemen has been marred by a bloody conflict since the Iran-aligned Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting a Saudi-led military coalition to intervene in March 2015 in support of the internationally recognised government.
The war has killed hundreds of thousands of people, forced millions from their homes and spawned what the United Nations has described as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. More than 23.4 million people, or three-quarters of Yemen’s population, require assistance, including 2.2 million youngsters who are acutely malnourished.
More than eight years into the fighting, the Houthis remain in control of the north of the country, but Marib – about 120km (75 miles) east of Sanaa – has remained a stronghold under the government that is now based in the southern port city of Aden.
The UN-backed truce initially took effect in April 2022 and raised hopes for a longer pause in fighting. The deal expired in October, but fighting has largely remained on hold.
Last week, Hans Grundberg, the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, said the overall military situation in the country continues to be “relatively stable” and other elements of the truce continue to be implemented, though he expressed concern at the uptick in the number and intensity of clashes in several front-line areas, including Marib and Taiz, which lies in the country’s southwest.
Grundberg told the UN Security Council that there has also been “a step change in the scope and depth of the discussions” and called on the warring sides “to seize the opportunities” created by new regional and international momentum, including a recent agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore ties after years of tensions.
In a sign of détente, the government and the Houthis agreed on Monday to exchange about 880 detainees amid talks in Switzerland facilitated by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Representatives of both sides have also welcomed the Chinese-brokered rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran, but some analysts are sceptical about its impact on the situation in Yemen.
“I do not think the Saudi-Iran agreement will largely affect the Yemeni file,” Adel Dashela, a Yemeni political researcher and author, told Al Jazeera. “It is not easy to end the Houthi takeover of Sanaa, retrieve the state weapons they seized and force them to abandon the use of weapons.”