Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi insurgents continued their brutal offensive Sunday, seizing more districts in the oil-rich southern province of Shabwa and the strategically vital, gas-rich northern province of Marib.
The U.S. and United Nations denounced the Houthis for displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians and obstructing efforts to provide them with humanitarian assistance.
Local sources confirmed the Houthis captured three districts in Shabwa and two in Marib over the weekend. In addition to its natural gas resources, Marib is the last northern stronghold of Yemen’s internationally-recognized elected government, and a huge number of refugees displaced from other parts of Yemen during years of fighting are sheltered in Marib.
“This leaves the internationally recognized government – based in the south after the Houthis ousted it from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014 – in control of Marib City and one other district,” Reuters noted grimly.
The Saudi-led coalition intervening on behalf of the Yemeni government said on Sunday it killed 160 Houthi fighters near Marib in 32 airstrikes over the preceding 24 hours. The coalition claimed to have killed at least 700 rebels over the past week.
The Houthis nevertheless continued their offensive, which was launched in February, ignoring desperate calls for a humanitarian cease-fire from the United Nations. The governor of Marib, Sheikh Sultan al-Aradah, accused the Houthis of “committing genocide” by preventing food and medicine from reaching the districts under siege.
Human rights activists say the Houthis are using child soldiers as cannon fodder in their gruesome human-wave attacks on government positions. The insurgents make no secret of using child soldiers; according to Voice of America News (VOA), the captive Yemeni capital city of Sanaa is covered with photos of children who were “martyred” while fighting for the Houthi cause.
According to VOA, Governor Aradah told U.S. special envoy Tim Lenderking on Saturday that the international community must make “bold decisions” to designate the Houthi movement as a terrorist group and “prosecute its leaders as war criminals.”
The Houthis were designated terrorists under the Trump administration, but President Joe Biden revoked that designation early in his administration.
The Biden State Department on Saturday condemned the Houthi offensive, saying it demonstrated “a flagrant disregard for the safety of civilians.”
“The Houthis are obstructing movement of people and humanitarian aid, preventing essential services from reaching the 35,000 residents of Abdiya. Their actions add to an already dire humanitarian situation and have caused even more Yemenis to become internally displaced,” the State Department said.
“We call on the Houthis to stop their offensive on Marib, and listen to the urgent calls from across Yemen and the international community to bring this conflict to an end and support a UN-led inclusive peace process,” the statement concluded.
The Houthis responded by claiming, without evidence, that they are actually “liberating and cleansing” Marib from “mercenaries,” the Islamic State, and al-Qaeda.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Salam insisted corridors for delivering emergency aid have been kept open, but “the U.N. is not serious in finding humanitarian solutions.”