Yemen’s Houthi offensive threatens IDP camps in Marib | Houthis News

Already displaced once in Yemen’s bitter civil war, Mohammed Ali Saleh fled last year with his pregnant wife and their three children to central Marib province to seek refuge in an area that has experienced relative peace and stability. thanks to well-protected oil fields nearby.

But now, the fighting is on their way again, threatening hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the governorate – home to around 800,000 IDPs.

Iran-linked Houthi rebels are pushing to capture the province from the internationally recognized government of Yemen in a bid to complete their control over the northern half of Yemen.

If successful, the Houthis could claim a strategic victory after a largely stalled battle in nearly seven years of war. The sounds of war terrify Saleh and his family.

“It is a nightmare that we experience every night,” he said from a displaced persons camp that had previously escaped violence.

The Houthis launched their Marib offensive in February. The new campaign, combined with increased Houthi missile and drone attacks against neighboring Saudi Arabia, comes as the Biden administration tries to revive talks on ending the conflict in Yemen – the poorest country in the country. Arab world that has been pushed to the brink of famine by bloodshed. .

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

‘A fateful battle for the Houthis’

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

Marib is home to a key oil refinery that produces 90 percent of the country’s liquefied petroleum gas, which is used for cooking and heating in almost all Yemeni households. Severe fuel shortages are already plaguing many parts of the country.

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

Yemen has been in the throes of civil war since 2014 when the Houthis took control of the capital of Sanaa and much of the north of the country, forcing the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee south, then to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led coalition, backed at the time by the United States, went to war months later in an attempt to bring Hadi back to power. Despite a relentless air campaign and fighting on the ground, the war deteriorated into a stalemate, killing an estimated 130,000 people and creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Last month, the Biden administration formally withdrew its support for the coalition, but said the United States would continue to support Saudi Arabia as it defended itself against Houthi attacks.

The latest offensive was among the fiercest, with the Houthis moving their heavy weapons to Marib. They have yet to make major progress amid fierce resistance from local tribes and government forces aided by coalition air raids.

Hundreds of deaths

But the fighting is approaching civilians and camps for displaced people. Houthi forces struck the provincial capital, also known as Marib, and its outskirts with ballistic missiles, drones loaded with explosives and shelling, aid workers said.

Sheikh Sultan al-Aradah, the governor of the province, told reporters that the coalition airstrike helped push back the Houthis. “Without their support, the situation would be very different,” he said.

Hundreds of fighters, mostly Houthi rebels, were killed in the Marib campaign, officials on both sides said.

Houthi leaders described the offensive as a religious battle, a sign of its importance to them. The rebels tried to take Marib for years, taking over towns and districts in neighboring provinces.

“There are probably several agendas at stake in Marib, but the most urgent is the conviction of the Houthis that they can take the city of Marib and end the war for the north while improving their economic sustainability and their negotiating position. with Saudi Arabia, ”said Peter Salisbury, Yemen. expert at the International Crisis Group.

But their offensive could turn against them.

Government-backed forces succeeded in recapturing parts of Houthi territory in Hajjah and Taiz provinces. The battle for Marib could also be used as a justification for Hadi’s government to withdraw from previous partial ceasefires, such as the 2018 UN-brokered deal that ended the struggle for the port. key to Hodeidah, controlled by the Houthis, which rules about 70% of Yemen. commercial and humanitarian imports.

Ceasefire proposal

The rebels began the Marib offensive shortly after President Joe Biden removed them from the US terrorism list, overturning a Trump administration decision that sparked an outcry from the UN and aid groups for humanitarian reasons.

The escalation has left international observers perplexed as to how to find a starting point for a long-sought peace. Tim Lenderking, US envoy to Yemen, noted: “Tragically, and somewhat confusing to me, it seems the Houthis are prioritizing a military campaign.” He urged them to accept a recent ceasefire proposal.

Mohammed Abdul Salam, a spokesperson for the Houthis, told rebel-run satellite TV station Al Masirah that they were studying the proposal, but he also criticized it.

He alleged that this did not offer an acceptable way to end the blockade imposed by the coalition on rebel-controlled areas, a reference to the closure of Sana’a airport to commercial flights and restrictions on cargo ships to Hodeidah.

The Houthi spokesperson told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the Saudi-led blockade must be lifted before a ceasefire agreement can be reached.

“The humanitarian side must be separated from the military side,” Abdulsalam said amid calls from the UN for an immediate end to the fighting.

“We have been asked for a comprehensive ceasefire … but the first step is to open seaports and airports, then move towards the process of a strategic ceasefire, which stops the strikes, missiles and drones.

“When the seaport and the airport open, we are ready to negotiate.”

At the same time, the Houthis have stepped up their missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia. The coalition said the rebels were encouraged by Biden’s measures, including his decision to end US support for the coalition in a dramatic break with the joint air campaign against them.

The warring parties have not conducted substantive negotiations since 2019. An agreement brokered by the UN in 2018 after talks in Sweden has largely come to naught; only one of its components – prisoner exchanges – has made progress after several rounds of talks.

Meanwhile, displaced families in Marib live in fear of what will follow.

Saleh, 29, and her family fled her hometown of Sana’a in 2017 to Hazm Town, the provincial capital of Jawf, before the Houthis overwhelmed her last year. This forced them to flee to Marib, and they settled in one of 125 IDP camps, according to IOM.

“We are tired. We have been displaced several times,” said Fatima, Saleh’s wife, who gave birth to their youngest daughter in the camp.

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