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UN Security Council alarmed by fighting in Yemen's Marib

The UN warned of a worsening catastrophe [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 March, 2021

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Armed clashes around the Yemeni city of Marib has raised concerns, with the UN warning of a worsening humanitarian catastrophe.
The United Nations Security Council on Thursday condemned the "escalation" of armed clashes around the Yemeni city of Marib, warning of a worsening humanitarian catastrophe.

Since last month, Houthi rebels have been pushing to seize Marib, the government's last northern stronghold and the capital of an oil-rich region.

The Security Council said the fighting "places one million internally-displaced persons at grave risk and threatens efforts to secure a political settlement when the international community is increasingly united to end the conflict."

In a statement, it "stressed the need for de-escalation by all, including an immediate end to the Houthi escalation in Marib (and) condemned the use of child soldiers in Marib."

The new campaign, combined with increasing Houthi missile and drone attacks on neighbouring Saudi Arabia, comes as the Biden administration tries to relaunch talks on ending the conflict in Yemen — the Arab world’s poorest country that has been pushed to the brink of famine by the bloodshed.

The Houthi push in Marib also threatens to ignite more fighting elsewhere in Yemen. Government-allied forces, aided by a Saudi-led coalition, have ramped up attacks in other areas recently in an apparent attempt to force the Houthis to spread out their resources and make them more vulnerable.

The Marib offensive "is a fateful battle for the Houthis,” said political analyst Abdel-Bari Taher. “It will determine the future of their ability to rule” in northern Yemen.

Marib houses a key oil refinery that produces 90% of Yemen’s liquefied petroleum gas, which is used for cooking and heating in almost all Yemeni households. Severe fuel shortages already plague many areas across the country.

The fighting in Marib could displace at least 385,000 people, according to the UN migration agency. Four displacement camps in the province have been abandoned since the start of the offensive, said Olivia Headon of the International Organization for Migration in Yemen.

Read more: Why the battle for Marib could determine Yemen’s future

Yemen has been convulsed by civil war since 2014 when the Houthis took control of the capital Sanaa and much of the northern part of the country, forcing the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led coalition, backed at the time by the US, entered the war months later to try restore Hadi to power. Despite a relentless air campaign and ground fighting, the war has deteriorated into a stalemate, killing about 130,000 people and spawning the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Iran-backed Houthis and the government have been locked in a power struggle since 2014, when the rebels seized control of the capital Sanaa.

The rebels says any ceasefire agreement can only begin after the Saudi-led blockade of Yemen is lifted.

The Biden administration last month officially withdrew its backing for the coalition but said the US would continue to offer support to Saudi Arabia as it defends itself against Houthi attacks.

The UN Security Council also condemned cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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