Ten Yemeni soldiers were killed in an attack launched by the Houthis on Tuesday evening, March 21, 2023, in an area south of the strategic city of Marib, the last recognized authority in northern Yemen, two government military officials told AFP.
The two officials said that the Iran-aligned Houthis have sent reinforcements to the Marib fronts, which they have been trying to control for years, in recent days, despite efforts to restore peace in the war-wracked country and a recent agreement to exchange hundreds of prisoners.
A military official, who preferred not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said, “The Houthis launched an attack on mountain hills overlooking the Harib district, south of Ma’rib, and made progress on that front, causing the displacement of dozens of families.”
“At least 10 soldiers were killed, in addition to an unknown number of attackers,” he added.
Another government military official confirmed the attack and the toll.
Yemen, the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, has witnessed a bloody conflict since 2014 between forces loyal to the internationally recognized government and the Houthi rebels. The conflict escalated with the intervention of Saudi Arabia at the head of a military coalition in March 2015 to stop the Houthis’ advance after they took control of the capital, Sana’a.
Since then, the conflict has killed tens of thousands of Yemenis and caused a humanitarian crisis that the United Nations described as the worst in the world, with the displacement of millions of people.
The fronts of Marib, the oil-rich region that is the government’s last stronghold in the north, witness frequent clashes between the Iran-backed Houthis and government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition.
The latest attack took place the day after the rebels and the government, during negotiations in Berne, Switzerland, reached an agreement to exchange more than 880 prisoners, in a new sign of hope with the acceleration of efforts to end the war.
The announcement of the exchange also came days after Saudi Arabia and Iran, which support opposing sides in the conflict, announced that they had reached an agreement to restore their diplomatic relations after seven years of estrangement.
During a Security Council meeting this month, UN officials said the recent detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran could provide momentum towards peace on the part of the warring parties in Yemen.
The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, urged the parties to the conflict to “seize the opportunity” created by this diplomatic breakthrough in the Gulf. During a video briefing to the Security Council, he referred to “relentless diplomatic efforts being made at various levels to end the conflict in Yemen.”
The Swedish diplomat visited Tehran this month, while the US special envoy to Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, visited Riyadh and the Sultanate of Oman, which often mediates in the region’s disputes, according to the US State Department.
Grundberg praised “the diplomatic momentum at the present time at the regional level, welcoming the tireless efforts of the countries of the region, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman.”
However, despite the high expectations, the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement is not expected to solve all the problems in Yemen, where the influence of the two regional powers is only one dimension of the multi-layered and highly complex conflict, analysts have warned.