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Residents say latest push comes as the UN considers whether to prolong aid to country
Yemen’s Marib city battens down as Houthis advance through energy-rich province
Yemen’s Marib city and surrounding areas have been besieged by the Houthi rebels, who are closing in on a large oil field, residents say.
Houthi leaders have said they plan to declare Marib the new capital of their self-proclaimed government, and may seize the city of 200,000 people, which sits on a strategic oil field.
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The offensive follows a number of military defeats for the Houthis in recent weeks, most notably in the northern Hajjah province, and may be in preparation for a future military withdrawal to central Yemen, where Marib lies.
Late on Wednesday local officials said pro-government forces were closing in on Marib airport, which is currently controlled by the rebels.
“Pro-government forces will move from Al-Wahi area and areas south of Marib governorate on foot or in a car,” according to an official statement.
According to a resident, hundreds of residents of the city have fled in recent days as fighters close in, and as news of the government attack on Marib reached them.
The UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is currently in Qatar for talks with both sides to try to break the impasse over Yemen’s future government.
Griffiths is due to report back to the UN security council on Wednesday evening.
The standoff over the leadership of Yemen has been reignited by the withdrawal of UN-backed prime minister Khaled Bahah from the country last month.
Ousted from Sana’a by the Houthis, the internationally recognised government seeks to return to power in the capital.
On Wednesday, the rebel-held news agency al-Masirah warned of renewed action by the group against Bahah’s replacement, Anwar Gargash, saying it would target him with terrorist attacks, and could even hit the United Arab Emirates in retaliation.
“The official Wafa television channel [in the UAE] could be struck after Houthi leaders decided to ‘wage war’ against [Gargash],” it said.
Britain sought to “legitimise” Britain’s attempt to broker a peace agreement in Yemen, a former foreign secretary told the BBC on Wednesday.
“This would have been taken far more seriously, and much more resolutely by the Saudis if we hadn’t taken the extraordinary decision to ensure that we had a beleaguered prime minister … there to mediate, and to make himself the interlocutor of the Saudis,” Boris Johnson said.
“Because we did that, it ended up making it entirely impossible to get much done,” he said.
“It became very difficult to get much done with the Houthis. And in the end the government who went in to the UN to intervene … wound up essentially falling apart.”
In an interview with the BBC, the Swedish UN envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said he was looking at whether the time was right to extend to aid to a country that is on the brink of a full-blown famine.
In a region known for its oil and natural gas reserves, a loss of control in Marib would be a major blow to the Houthis, who seized over a third of the country since 2014, including three north of the capital Sana’a.
The city is a major supplier of electricity to northern Yemen.
“If we do want to take a fresh look at the map and see whether there is any way that we can move in to try to prevent that [UAE] entity and the Houthis sitting on each other’s knees … there’s no imminent danger that we will be getting into this arena but there are real risks,” Griffiths said.
Griffiths travelled to Marib last month to meet with Houthi officials to discuss “further talks on a political settlement in Yemen”.