The Houthis have made territorial gains in Marib despite coalition airstrikes and fierce battles inflicting damages on both sides.

Yemeni children are pictured in front of tents at a camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Yemen's northeastern city of Marib, on October 29, 2021.
Yemeni children are pictured in front of tents at a camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Yemen's northeastern city of Marib, on October 29, 2021. (AFP)

While Houthi fighters are set to control Yemen's Marib in a key energy-producing region, pro-government forces in central Yemen prepares to defend their last northern stronghold. 

Should Marib governorate fall to the Houthis, it would pose a serious security threat to the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia battling the Iran-aligned group for over six years.

Earlier, regional experts expected that the war would last for a few weeks but little did anyone know that it would become a military stalemate. 

Marib is just 420 kilometres away from the Saudi town of Samtah. If the Houthis succeed in taking over the entire city, it would mean the Iran-backed militia taking charge of a gas and oil-rich city next to the Saudi border. 

From a military and economic standpoint, the fall of Marib will give a major boost to the Houthi ranks as the town was the UN-recognised government’s last stronghold in northern Yemen. 

Despite much of Yemen facing a tough economic challenge, unemployment and crushing poverty, Marib still fared better when it came to infrastructure development, economic growth, and state services.

But the looming battle for Marib has put at risk its population of three million people.

In January this year, as the Houthi assaults gained pace in Marib, some analysts argued that "influential powers must put pressure on the various sides in Yemen’s war to show restraint and prioritise diplomacy above revenge to give renewed negotiations a chance at success."

But the conflict continued to play out along the dangerous margins. 

The Houthi advance

Houthi military spokesman Yahia Sarea announced on Tuesday they had seized Marib's al-Jubah and Jabal Murad districts, after last month taking al-Abdiyah and Harib, saying "our mujahideen continue the march towards Marib City".

They have advanced on most districts in Marib, Yemen's only gas-producing region and home to one of the country's largest oilfields in Marib Al Wadi, which along with Marib City, remain entirely under government control.

It is not clear if the Houthis will launch a direct assault on the capital of Marib governorate or move to take the nearby oil and gas facilities and besiege the city.

Their territorial gains in Marib as well as in oil-rich Shabwa in the south, come despite coalition airstrikes and fierce battles that have exacted a heavy toll on both sides, but also killed civilians.

Government forces say they will not cede. Trenches, sand bags and land mines are in place around the city, two military sources and a local official said. 

READ MORE: No end in sight as Yemen war enters fifth year

Exit a costly war

The United Nations and United States have struggled to engineer a truce needed to revive political talks to end a war that has killed tens of thousands and left millions hungry.

Talks between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran aimed at easing tensions have made little progress and the Houthi advance in Marib is likely to further embolden Tehran. The two foes have for years vied for control across the region.

Riyadh, which wants to exit a costly war but needs security guarantees including over Houthi missiles that have targeted Saudi cities, has seen power shift to the Houthis since 2019, when ally the United Arab Emirates largely wound down its presence.

Even if Riyadh reaches a deal with the Houthis, ending the war requires agreement among Yemen's myriad factions.

Rebel onslaught

Six political parties accused the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition of failing Marib amid a rebel offensive on the central province.

“The legitimate government has failed to shoulder its responsibility in the political, military, economic and media fields,” the parties said in a statement.

They also regretted the poor performance of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Leading among signatories of the statement are the General People's Congress, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, the Yemeni Socialist Party and the Nasserist Unionist People's Organization.

There was no comment from either the government or the Saudi-led coalition on the statement.

READ MORE: Houthi missile attack kills, injures many civilians in Yemen's Marib

Women and children killed

Earlier this week, at least 22 people were killed in a Houthi rebel strike on a mosque south of Marib city, a pro-government official told AFP.

Yemen's Information Minister Moammar al-Eryani had said that 29 people, including women and children, were killed in the attack.

Last week, children were among 13 people killed when a missile fired by the rebels struck a tribal leader's home in Al-Jawba, according to military and medical officials.

Since the beginning of Yemen's crisis in 2014 when the Houthis seized Sanaa, prompting Saudi-led forces to intervene to prop up the government the following year.

Tens of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced in what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis. 

Four million people have been displaced from their homes and  71 percent of the population are in need of humanitarian aid or protection to survival. The UN says five million are on the brink of famine, and almost 50,000 are experiencing famine-like conditions.

READ MORE: Can Iran and Saudi Arabia bury the past and end the Yemen war?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies