Yemeni rebels continued their weeks-long blockade of a district in the central province of Marib, officials and UN aid workers said on Sunday, cutting off humanitarian aid and blocking the movement of 37,000 of its people.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels have advanced in recent weeks into the Abdia district south of the city of Marib, forcing internationally recognized government troops to retreat, military officials on both sides said.
Sheikh Sultan al-Ardah, the Marib provincial government, said the Houthis were “committing genocide” in Abdiya, preventing food, medicine and other basic necessities from reaching the district.
The attack on Abdiya is part of an offensive by the Houthis to capture the government-held city of Marib, which the rebels have been trying to seize for years. He stepped up his offensive in February, apparently fueled by a decision by President Joe Biden’s administration to end US support to the Saudi-led coalition. However, they have faced stiff resistance from the coalition-aided government and tribal forces.
Yemen has been engulfed in civil war since 2014, when the Houthis captured the capital, Sanaa, and forced President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his internationally recognized government to flee south, and then later to Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year to try to restore the government to power. The war has largely turned into a stalemate and has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Thousands of fighters, mostly Houthi, have been killed in clashes and airstrikes around the city of Marib. The Houthis usually attack with waves of fighters charging government lines, making them easy targets in the open desert for coalition warplanes.
Children recruited by the Houthis are among those killed in the fighting. Placards with pictures of child soldiers are common on the streets in rebel-held areas, including the capital Sanaa.
Dozens of civilians, including women and children under the age of two, have also been killed in Houthi attacks on the city of Marib. Using ballistic missiles and explosives-laden drones.
The rebels want to wrest the energy-rich Marib from the government to complete their control of Yemen’s north, a move that would cement their position in any future talks to end the devastating conflict. They have so far defied repeated international calls for a nationwide ceasefire and to engage in negotiations to settle the conflict.
Two UN aid workers said the Houthis had halted humanitarian aid in the district and restricted the movement of people for nearly three weeks. He said several thousand people were displaced in Abdia amid indiscriminate shelling and missile attacks on residential buildings and infrastructure.
The blockade also prevented the transfer of the injured and other patients outside the district, activists said on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to brief the media.
On Friday, a ballistic missile struck Ali Abdel-Mugani Hospital, the main health facility in Abdia, which provides immediate medical care to people in the district, the Doctors Without Borders humanitarian organization said.
Military officials on both sides, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, said the rebels entered the center of the district, but were hit by heavy coalition airstrikes. In between, fierce fighting is going on in many areas.
The Saudi-led coalition said it carried out dozens of airstrikes on the Houthis to halt their progress in the district.
In a phone call on Saturday with US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking, al-Ardah called on the international community to “designate this militia as a terrorist group and prosecute its leaders as war criminals.” Called to take bold decisions.”
Mohamed Abdel-Salam, the rebels’ chief negotiator and spokesman, claimed the rebels were battling militants affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. He also claimed that humanitarian corridors were available in Abdiya “but the United Nations is not serious in finding a humanitarian solution.”
Abdel-Salaam did not provide evidence to support his claim and did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Saturday condemned the Houthis’ escalation in Marib, which he said “demonstrates a major disregard for the safety of civilians.”