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Armed Houthi followers ride on the back of a truck after participating in a funeral of Houthi fighters killed in recent fighting against government forces in Yemen’s oil-rich province of Marib, in Sanaa February 20, 2021. — Reuters pic
Armed Houthi followers ride on the back of a truck after participating in a funeral of Houthi fighters killed in recent fighting against government forces in Yemen’s oil-rich province of Marib, in Sanaa February 20, 2021. — Reuters pic

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DUBAI, Sept 2 — Sixty-five combatants have been killed in fighting after Yemen’s Houthi rebels renewed an offensive on Marib, the last government stronghold in the country’s oil-rich north, a military official said today.

The Iran-backed rebels attacked pro-government positions south of the strategic city, making progress despite losing dozens of fighters in coalition air strikes.

It was the Houthis’ first major offensive on Marib, the key to controlling the region, since June, when 111 fighters on both sides died in three days of clashes.

“Twenty-two pro-government (forces) were killed and 50 others were wounded, while 43 Houthi rebels were also killed in the last 48 hours,” a government military official told AFP.

The figures were confirmed by other military and medical sources.

The resurgence in fighting comes after strikes on Yemen’s largest airbase, in the country’s south, killed at least 30 pro-government fighters on Sunday in the deadliest incident since December.

It also comes just days before the United Nations’ new special envoy for Yemen, Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg, takes up his duties.

Yemen’s internationally recognised government — backed by a Saudi-led military coalition — and the Houthis have been locked in war since 2014, when the insurgents seized the capital Sanaa.

In February, the Houthis escalated their efforts to take Marib in fighting that has killed hundreds on both sides. Control of the oil-rich north would strengthen the Houthis’ bargaining position in peace talks.

While the UN and Washington are pushing for an end to the war, the Houthis have demanded the re-opening of Sanaa airport, closed under a Saudi blockade since 2016, before any ceasefire or negotiations.

Alleged war crimes

As well as the bloody offensive in Marib, the Houthis have also stepped up drone and missile strikes on Saudi targets, including its oil facilities.

Eight people were wounded on Tuesday in the latest such drone attack that also damaged a civilian plane and the entrance to Abha airport in southwest Saudi Arabia.

In June, then UN envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths told the Security Council that his efforts over the past three years to end the war had been “in vain”.

The fighting has killed tens of thousands and left some 80 per cent of Yemenis dependent on aid, in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The war has also displaced millions of people and left many on the brink of famine.

On Monday, lawyers representing victims of the conflict made a submission to the International Criminal Court for an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by pro-government forces.

The allegations centre on a 2016 coalition air strike that killed 140 people at a funeral in Sanaa, and a 2018 air strike on a school bus in northern Yemen that killed at least 40 children.

The coalition has admitted that “mistakes” were made, and said it would put on trial military personnel suspected of being behind strikes on civilians, including the school bus strike.

The ICC, in The Hague, has no obligation to consider complaints filed to the prosecutor by individuals or groups. — AFP

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