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Yemeni govt forces repel rebel attacks on key town

Yemeni forces on Monday repelled attacks by the Iran-backed Huthi rebels on multiple fronts, military officials said, as the insurgents intensified efforts to seize the government’s last northern stronghold.

The Saudi-led military coalition — that has been backing the government against the Huthis since 2015 — pounded rebel positions with air strikes.

Earlier this month, Huthi soldiers resumed an offensive to seize oil-rich Marib, some 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of the rebel-held capital Sanaa.

The city’s loss would be disastrous for Yemen’s beleaguered leadership.

Two military officials told AFP that rebels had attacked to the north, south and west of the city.

“Government forces were able to repel them,” one official said, giving no details on numbers killed, and speaking on condition of anonymity.

Dozens from both sides have been killed in fighting around Marib in recent weeks.

To the south of Marib, hundreds of rebels launched an attack in the Jabal Murad district, before they were “forced to retreat due to air strikes”, the officials said.

They said some Huthi fighters were killed and 18 others captured in an ambush in Harib district.

North of the city, in the Medghal district, pro-government forces launched air strikes against insurgents, as well as targeting Huthi reinforcements coming from Sanaa.

Yemen has been embroiled in a bloody power struggle since 2014 between its government, supported by Saudi Arabia, and Huthi rebels, who control most of the north.

The grinding conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions, according to international organisations, sparking what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The upsurge in violence comes shortly after Washington decided to remove the rebels from its list of terrorist groups, in order to ensure aid is unimpeded, and to pave the way to restart peace talks.

Observers say the Huthis want to capture Marib as leverage before entering into any negotiations.

The rebels have also escalated attacks against Saudi Arabia.

A Huthi spokesman said on Monday on their Al-Masirah television station they had “targeted (Saudi Arabia’s) Abha and Jeddah airports”.

Riyadh has not confirmed the reported attacks.