By SAMY MAGDY
MARIB CITY, Yemen (AP) — The two fighters stand shoulder-to-shoulder on a mountain overlook, with a clear view below of the enemy’s position. They are part of the last lines of defense between the government’s last stronghold in Yemen’s north, and the Houthi rebels trying to take it.
Hassan Saleh and his younger brother Saeed, both in their early 20s, have been fighting alongside other government fighters and tribesman outside the oil-rich city of Marib, against the months-long offensive by the Iranian-backed rebels. They say they need more weapons to push the attackers back.
“We need sniper rifles,” said Hassan, who was taking a position in a sandbagged trench in the mountainous Kassara region. All that most battalions have are old Kalashnikovs and machine guns mounted on the rear of pickup trucks.
This is the most active frontline in Yemen’s nearly 7-year-old civil war, where a steady stream of fighters on both sides are killed or wounded every day, even as international pressure to end the war intensifies. Amid another round of peace talks, this time led by Oman, the desert city of Marib remains the crucible of one of the world’s most bogged-down conflicts.
The Houthis have for years attempted to take Marib to complete their control over the northern half of Yemen. But since February, they have waged an intensified offensive from multiple fronts, while hitting the residential city center with missiles and explosive-laden drones, killing and wounding dozens of civilians.
So far, the rebels have made only incremental progress, inching slowly across the desert plain, because of Saudi airstrikes that wreak heavy casualties in their ranks. Government and medical officials in Marib estimate that thousands of fighters have been killed or wounded, mostly rebels, since February. In the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa, mass funerals and death announcements of soldiers, some of them children, indicate how costly the battle has been, though Houthis do not release official death tolls.
The grueling battle over the remote city seems intertwined with the sluggish efforts for peace. The Houthis appear to hope capturing Marib will give them the upper hand in talks. Meanwhile government officials complain that American and international wariness at fueling the interminable war prevents them from getting weapons they need to win in Marib.
The U.S. is pressuring the Saudi-led coalition that backs the government not to provide more weapons for fear they could fall into militants’ hands amid worries over government “graft and incompetence,” a Yemeni official told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
“We are at a crossroads,” said Marib’s provincial governor Sheikh Sultan al-Aradah, arguing the weapons are needed to tip the scales at Marib. “The world has some reservations about arming Yemen in the current time.”
An AP crew travelled in recent weeks to the city through Saudi Arabia on a government-organized trip.
Marib, some 115 kilometers (70…
Read More News: Costly and critical: The battle for a key Yemeni city