Clashes between rebels and Yemeni government fighters killed at least 111 in Marib in three days, pro-government sources said, following a renewed offensive by Huthi insurgents.
The Iran-allied insurgents escalated their efforts to seize Marib, the government’s last stronghold in northern Yemen, in February, and the fighting has killed hundreds on both sides.
The fighting between Thursday and Sunday killed 29 pro-government personnel and at least 82 rebels, three pro-government sources told AFP. Rebel forces have not confirmed the toll.
Yemeni government officials said that since Thursday, the Huthis had mounted intensive attacks from the north, south and west, but were unable to breach government defences which were supported by air cover from a Saudi-led military coalition.
“These areas witnessed fierce fighting amid artillery shelling from both sides and intense coalition air raids,” one government military official said.
Control of the oil-rich region of Marib would strengthen the Huthis’ bargaining position in peace talks, but the battle has also raised fears of a humanitarian catastrophe, as many Yemenis had fled to the area to escape fighting in other parts of the country.
Yemen’s conflict flared in 2014 when the Huthis seized the capital Sanaa, prompting the Saudi-led intervention to prop up the government the following year.
While the UN and Washington are pushing for an end to the war, the Huthis have demanded the re-opening of Sanaa airport, closed under a Saudi blockade since 2016, before any ceasefire or negotiations.
As well as the bloody offensive in Marib, the Huthis have also stepped up drone and missile strikes on Saudi targets, including its oil facilities.
This month the outgoing UN envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths told the Security Council his own 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 percent 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.
The bodies of 25 migrants were recovered off Yemen on Monday after the boat that was carrying them capsized with up to 200 people on board, a provincial official told AFP.
Fishermen who found the bodies told AFP that they were floating in the waters of Ras al-Ara in the southern province of Lahij, an area so rife with human trafficking that local people call it the “Gate of Hell”.
“The boat overturned two days ago and was carrying between 160 and 200 people,” said Jalil Ahmed Ali from the Lahij provincial authority, citing information given by Yemeni smugglers. The fate of the other people on board was unclear.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration confirmed to AFP that a boat sank in the area but said it was still trying to establish the details of the incident.
Despite the grinding war in impoverished Yemen, migrants continue to travel there in the hopes of finding work in Saudi Arabia and other neighbouring oil-rich states whose economies depend on millions of foreign labourers.
The fishermen said the victims, found in the Bab al-Mandab strait that separates Djibouti from Yemen, appeared to be of African origin.
“We found 25 bodies of Africans who drowned when a boat carrying dozens of them sank off the Yemeni shores,” said one of the fishermen.
“We saw the bodies floating in the water 10 miles from the shores of Ras al-Ara,” added another.
Migrants often find themselves stranded in Yemen, which is mired in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis after six years of conflict.
The beaches of Ras al-Ara are among the areas most targeted by smugglers.
Earlier this month, local people appealed to Yemen’s internationally recognised government to intervene, saying the area had become a free-for-all for human traffickers without any action from the authorities.
In recent months, dozens of migrants have died in the Bab al-Mandab strait, a major route for international trade but also for human trafficking.
In April, at least 42 migrants died off Djibouti after the capsize of their boat which had left from Yemen, according to an IOM report. They were likely among those who try to return home after finding themselves stranded or detained.
The IOM reported this month that 5,100 immigrants arrived in Yemen so far this year, while 35,000 travelled in 2020 and 127,000 in 2019 before the outbreak of the coronavirus which suppressed demand for labour in the Gulf states.
The UN agency often sends migrants back to their home countries from Yemen. But it said in April that more than 32,000 migrants, mostly from Ethiopia, were still stranded in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.
“They have made progress on the Kassara and Al-Mashjah fronts, but they have been thwarted on the Jabal Murad front,” he told AFP.
The other official said that warplanes from the Saudi-led military coalition, which entered the Yemen conflict to support the government in 2015, launched airstrikes that “destroyed 12 Huthi military vehicles, including four tanks and a cannon.”
The Iran-backed rebels in late 2014 overran the capital Sanaa, 120 kilometres (75 miles) to the west of Marib, along with much of northern Yemen.
The loss of Marib would be a heavy blow for the Yemeni government, currently based in the southern city of Aden, and for its Saudi backers.
Millions of people in conflict-hit Yemen, South Sudan, and northern Nigeria are at risk of famine in the coming months or already facing it, two United Nations agencies warned on Tuesday.
Existing acute food insecurity, heavy constraints on humanitarian access, conflict, economic blows, and climate shocks mean “urgent and at-scale targeted humanitarian action is needed to prevent hunger or death” in these areas, the groups said in a joint report.
The three areas were among 20 “hunger hotspots” identified by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) where existing acute food insecurity risks deteriorating further by July.
A specific sub-group — Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Honduras, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and Zimbabwe — are, particularly at risk.
Parts of their populations are already experiencing “extreme depletion of livelihoods, insufficient food consumption, and high acute malnutrition”, the joint report warned.
“In such fragile contexts, any further shocks could push a significant number of people over the brink and into destitution and even starvation,” it said.
In parts of Jonglei state in South Sudan, the UN agencies said famine was already occurring, and “urgent, at-scale action is now needed to stop likely widespread starvation and death”.
Overall in South Sudan, some 7.2 million people are expected to be in a food crisis — with high malnutrition or just marginally meeting minimal food needs — from April to July.
Some 2.4 million people are classified as in an “emergency” situation, with 108,000 people in the agencies’ “catastrophe/famine” grouping.
Urgent action is also required to prevent further destitution in parts of Yemen, the report said, with the number of people in or nearly in famine estimated to triple from 16,000 last October-December to more than 47,000 this June.
Those facing acute food insecurity in Yemen will rise by three million, it said, to 16.2 million people, with five million in an emergency situation.
– Conflicts, food insecurity –
Meanwhile, in conflict-affected areas of northern Nigeria, the number of people facing an emergency situation will likely double year on year to over 1.2 million by August 2021.
“Overall, in the next six months, northern Nigeria is expected to face a marked deterioration of food security and nutrition, due to conflict and economic factors, aggravated by the secondary effects of COVID-19,” it said.
There was some improvement — last November, the UN agencies classed Burkina Faso as a fourth country at risk of famine alongside South Sudan, Yemen and northern Nigeria.
But the alert in Burkina Faso had slightly lowered for the coming months, after a good harvest and improved delivery of food assistance to remote and inaccessible areas.
Continued conflict in the zone, however, means the situation “remains very concerning.”
Hundreds of angry Yemenis stormed the presidential palace in Aden on Tuesday protesting poor living conditions in the war-torn country but were eventually pushed back peacefully, an AFP correspondent said.
Protesters, including retired military and security officers, marched in the southern port city, the de facto capital where the internationally-recognized government is based.
“Revolution, revolution in the south,” they shouted.
Palace guards shot into the air but protesters continued to march in.
The crowd remained in the building for over an hour before dispersing.
A government official told AFP that Yemeni and Saudi forces escorted to safety members of the cabinet, including Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, to the military intelligence building on the palace grounds.
Protesters told AFP that they were angry over a lack of services and a delay in the payment of salaries.
Some carried flags of the southern separatist movement.
Yemen’s government was formed in December under a Riyadh-sponsored power-sharing agreement between ministers loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and supporters of the secessionist Southern Transitional Council.
Both are technically fighting the Iran-backed Huthi rebels, who control the capital Sanaa in the north.
But the STC has sought to restore South Yemen’s independence from the north. The two sides unified in 1990.
Aden residents claim the new government has not done anything to remedy price inflation or repeated power cuts.
Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war between the government — backed by a Saudi-led military coalition — and the Huthi rebels since 2014, pushing the country to the brink of famine.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in the conflict, which has crippled the economy and healthcare system.
The UN calls Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The UN migration agency has urged rebels who control the Yemeni capital Sanaa to provide access to dozens of African migrants who were seriously injured in a weekend hostel fire.
The Sunday blaze at an overcrowded holding facility in Sanaa killed an unconfirmed number of migrants and injured more than 170, over half of them seriously, the International Organization for Migration said.
“As many migrants are in a critical condition, meeting their health needs must be an urgent priority,” IOM Middle East and North Africa director Carmela Godeau said in a statement Tuesday.
“We are facing challenges accessing the injured due to an increased security presence in the hospitals,” she said.
“Humanitarians and health workers must be given access to support the treatment of those affected by the fire.”
There has still been no word from the Huthi rebel authorities on what caused Sunday’s fire or how many people it killed.
The IOM said more than 350 migrants, most of them from Ethiopia, were in a hangar area where the fire broke out.
“While the cause of the fire is still unconfirmed, its impact is clearly horrific,” said Godeau.
Despite more than six years of devastating conflict in Yemen that have created what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the impoverished country is still a magnet for migrants from the nearby Horn to Africa seeking a better life in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
Restrictions on movement imposed during the coronavirus pandemic have led to a reduction in migrant arrivals from more than 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020.
But they have also led to “thousands of migrants becoming stranded with little access to basic services or protection,” the IOM said.
It said it was working with Ethiopian authorities to restart a voluntary repatriation programme for stranded migrants.
More than 6,000 have registered to return home from Yemen’s government-held second city Aden, of whom a first 1,100 are are expected to leave in the coming weeks, the IOM said.
At least eight migrants and guards were killed, and scores more injured, in a fire on Sunday at a holding facility in Yemen’s capital, the International Organization for Migration said.
“Eight people confirmed dead, the total death toll is reported to be much higher,” tweeted Carmela Godeau, IOM’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“IOM is responding particularly with emergency health care for over 170 injured, more than 90 of them are in a serious condition.”
Godeau said that it “remains unclear” how the fire at the centre in Sanaa started, adding: “This is just one of the many dangers that migrants have faced during the past six years of the crisis in Yemen.”
It is believed thousands of migrants are stranded in Yemen, where a years-long conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Every year thousands of migrants make perilous boat journeys from the Horn of Africa to the war-torn nation, many with the aim of travelling overland to Gulf countries in search of work.
Last week, at least 20 people drowned after smugglers threw dozens of migrants overboard during a crossing between Djibouti and Yemen, according to IOM.
The UN’s humanitarian chief said Tuesday he was “very alarmed” by a Huthi rebel advance on the Yemeni government’s last northern stronghold, saying an assault on Marib could endanger millions of civilians.
The Iran-backed Huthis have this month resumed an offensive to seize oil-rich Marib, some 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of the rebel-held capital Sanaa.
The city’s loss would be a major blow for Yemen’s government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, but also for the civilian population and the hundreds of thousands of displaced people sheltering in desolate camps in the region.
“I’m very alarmed about the military escalation in Marib and its impact on the humanitarian situation,” Mark Lowcock, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, said in a tweet.
“An assault on the city would put two million civilians at risk, with hundreds of thousands potentially forced to flee — with unimaginable humanitarian consequences. Now is the time to de-escalate, not to add even more to the misery of the Yemeni people.”
Military officials told AFP that the rebels had advanced towards the city on two fronts overnight after heavy fighting with government forces.
Dozens from both sides have been killed in the past 24 hours alone, they said. The total casualty toll from the battle for Marib is unknown but reports indicate it is now in the hundreds.
“The rebels have advanced north and west of the city after seizing Al-Zor (in Sirwah district) up to the western sides of Marib dam, and tightened their grip on hills overlooking supply lines for several fronts,” one of the officials said.
The military coalition, which entered Yemen’s conflict in 2015, has been pounding rebel positions, and the Huthi-run Al-Masirah television on Tuesday reported 13 airstrikes in several areas in Marib.
– Once a sanctuary –
The fighting is endangering sprawling camps for internally displaced people, many of whom have fled several times before ending up in Marib, the only part of the north not in Huthi hands.
Until early 2020, Marib city was spared the worst of Yemen’s six-year-old conflict, due to its strategic importance with its rich oil and gas reserves, and also because of its location near the border of regional power Saudi Arabia.
It became a sanctuary for many in the early years of the war, taking in those hoping for a new start.
But that relative stability went with fighting last year and — after a lull since October — residents once again risk being in the line of fire as the two sides battle for control.
“If fighting moves towards populated areas or these displacement sites, we will see people flee again and towards locations to the east and south of Marib city with even less resources,” International Organization for Migration spokeswoman Olivia Headon told AFP.
“Much of this is desert area so just think about what any displacement in that direction would mean for families’ access to water.”
Headon said around 650 families had been forced to flee in the recent upsurge of fighting and that another shift in the frontlines would lead to further waves of displacement.
Yemen’s grinding conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions, according to international organisations, sparking what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The upsurge in violence comes shortly after Washington decided to remove the rebels from its list of terrorist groups — a move that would come into effect on Tuesday — in order to ensure aid is unimpeded, and to pave the way to restart peace talks.
Observers say the Huthis want to capture Marib as leverage before entering into any negotiations.
The rebels have also escalated attacks against Saudi Arabia.
Its state media said Tuesday that another “booby-trapped drone” launched by the Huthis had been intercepted and destroyed near Abha airport, which earlier this month was struck by an attack that left an aircraft in flames.
Five women were killed in war-torn Yemen when a projectile exploded at a wedding held on New Year’s Day in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, officials said Saturday.
The government and Huthi rebel forces blamed each other for the Friday night bombing of the hall near Hodeida’s airport, a frontline between the warring sides on the edge of the Huthi-held town.
It came just two days after at least 26 people were killed in blasts that rocked the airport of the southern city of Aden as government ministers got off a plane.
General Sadek Douid, the government representative in a UN-sponsored joint commission overseeing a truce, condemned the Hodeida blast, which also left seven wounded, as “an odious crime committed by the Huthis against civilians”.
Hodeida’s Huthi-appointed governor, Mohammed Ayache, said on Al-Masirah television, which is run by the Shiite Muslim rebels, that “the forces of aggression never hesitate to blame others for their crimes”.
Saudi-backed government forces launched an offensive in June 2018 to retake Hodeida, the main entry point for humanitarian aid to poverty-stricken Yemen.
But a ceasefire has been partially observed since December of the same year.
The United Nations said Wednesday it has been forced to close or severely cut back half of its major programmes in Yemen to tackle the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“We have a moral obligation to warn the world that millions of Yemenis will suffer and could die because we don’t have the funding we need to keep going,” said the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lisa Grande.
Grande said UN programmes in Yemen had had a “real impact”, preventing large-scale famine, rolling back the worst cholera epidemic in modern history and providing help to millions of displaced people, and she appealed to donors to provide the funds to keep them going.
Five years of war between pro-Iran rebels and a Saudi-led coalition which intervened to shore up the beleaguered government have left nearly 80 percent of Yemenis — more than 24 million people — dependent on some form of humanitarian aid.
A Yemen aid conference held in Riyadh on June 2 saw donors pledge only $1.35 billion of the $2.41 billion needed to cover essential humanitarian activities until the end of the year, leaving a gap of more than $1 billion.
Saudi Arabia, a key player in the conflict, emerged as the biggest donor, pledging an aid package worth $500 million.
The UN said the impact of underfunding had been dramatic, against what it has termed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
In April, food rations for more than eight million people in northern Yemen were halved and humanitarian agencies were forced to stop reproductive health services in 140 facilities.
Health services were cut or reduced in a further 275 specialised centres for treating people with cholera and other infectious diseases.
Allowances to nearly 10,000 frontline health workers were stopped and the supplies needed to treat trauma patients, who will almost certainly die without immediate treatment, were halted.
If funding is not urgently received within weeks, medicines and essential supplies for 189 hospitals and 2,500 clinics, representing half of the health facilities in Yemen, will halt just as the world does battle with the coronavirus pandemic.
International medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has warned that Yemen faces a “catastrophe” from the disease.
The UN says COVID-19 has likely already spread throughout most of Yemen, even though less than 2,000 cases, including 537 deaths, have been recorded.
War-torn Yemen is once again on the brink of famine as donor funds that averted catastrophe just 18 months ago have dried up, the country’s UN humanitarian coordinator said.
With much of the country dependent on aid, a coronavirus pandemic raging unchecked, and countless children already facing starvation, Lise Grande said that millions of vulnerable families could quickly move from “being able to hold on to being in free fall.”
The United Nations raised only around half the required $2.41 billion in aid for Yemen at a June donor conference co-hosted by Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition backing the internationally recognised government against Huthi rebels who control much of the north.
Yemen is already gripped by what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands killed, an estimated four million people displaced by war and 80 percent of the country’s 29 million people dependent on aid for their survival.
Grande said in an interview from Sanaa that critical programmes providing sanitation, healthcare and food were already closing down because of a lack of cash, just as the economic situation is looking “scarily similar” to the darkest days of the crisis.
A critical fuel shortage, for which the Huthis and the government are trading blame, is now threatening the operation of the electricity grid, water supply, and key infrastructure like hospitals.
“Ships aren’t being allowed to bring in life-saving commodities, the currency is depreciating very quickly. The central bank is out of money. The price of a basic food basket… has increased by 30 percent in just the past few weeks alone,” Grande said.
“We’re seeing the same factors driving the country towards famine that we saw before. We don’t have the resources we need to fight it and roll it back this time. It’s something to be profoundly worried about.”
– Empty promises? – Saudi Arabia emerged as the biggest donor at the June event, pledging $500 million. Britain and the United States, both major weapons suppliers to Saudi Arabia, also stepped in with large packages.
However, Grande said that only nine of the 31 donors had actually provided the funds — a pattern that the UN has sounded alarm over before, and which will worsen as the world sinks into a coronavirus-induced recession.
“It’s very clear that the COVID pandemic has put pressure on assistance budgets all over the world … They’re just not going to be able to do what they’ve done previously. And the impact of that is going to be very significant, very severe,” she said.
Yemen has so far officially recorded some 1,300 cases of the disease, with 359 fatalities, but testing is scant, most clinics are ill-equipped to determine causes of death and there are ominous signs that the real toll is much higher.
Modelling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine indicates there could have been over one million coronavirus infections by last month, and that 85,000 people could die in a worst-case scenario.
But as the country’s needs escalate, the ability to meet them has diminished.
– Programmes cut – Grande said that in the next few days, the UN faced the “unbelievable situation” of having to stop providing fuel to hospitals as well as water supply and sanitation systems across the country.
The World Food Programme, which has been providing staples to 13 million people, has had to scale back with deliveries to only about 8.5-8.7 million people per month, and many of those have been put on half rations.
And the week the coronavirus crisis started, the WHO ran out of funds to pay 10,000 public health workers across the country.
A year and a half ago when Yemen last stood on the brink, the situation was very different.
The central bank was recapitalised by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — then an active partner in the coalition — paid schoolteachers’ salaries, the currency was stabilised and commodity imports were supported.
“Eighteen months ago, we were one of the best-funded humanitarian operations in the world,” Grande said.
“The country is right back where it was. The difference is that now we don’t have the resources we need in order to push it back.”
The Yemeni grooms sit expectantly inside a TV studio, waiting for their wedding parties to be broadcast live so that families and friends can join in the celebrations despite a coronavirus lockdown.
The pandemic has forced weddings to be scaled down or cancelled across the world but in the Yemeni capital Sanaa the traditional folk music and dancing have been beamed into people’s homes instead.
Well-wishers call into the satellite channel Alhawyah to offer their congratulations to the grooms, dressed in their finest clothes and with rifles propped up next to them and traditional daggers tucked into their belts.
As the number of coronavirus cases began to rise in war-ravaged Yemen, Alhawyah — Arabic for “identity” — began hosting wedding parties with the aim of reducing guest numbers and preventing the spread of the virus.
Participants are sprayed with disinfectant before entering the studio for the all-male gatherings, where a popular band performs.
Before the pandemic, weddings in Yemen were lively affairs that drew hundreds of guests — both men and women but separately in line with tribal tradition. The men spent the evening chewing qat, a mild narcotic that is a mainstay of Yemeni culture.
Presenter Abdulwahab Yahya said the idea of the show is “to keep the bridegrooms in good health and to help them enjoy their weddings despite coronavirus”.
“Instead of guests coming to wedding halls to greet the bridegrooms, they can phone and greet them during the two-hour show,” he said.
Osama al-Qaood spent months trying to organise his big day before opting for a televised event.
“Normal wedding gatherings will help spread the disease to neighbourhoods and communities. My real joy is to ensure a healthy society,” he told AFP.
Yemen is engulfed in a long war between Iranian-backed Huthi rebels, who control much of the north including Sanaa, and the government which is supported by a Saudi-led military coalition.
Five years of conflict have killed tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, and created what the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
UN agencies and humanitarian groups have warned that Yemen’s dilapidated health system will not be able to cope with a major outbreak of coronavirus.
Authorities have so far reported 967 cases including 257 deaths, but the real toll is feared to be much higher.
“I hoped that I would be able to organise a normal wedding where relatives and friends get together to celebrate,” said another of the grooms, Mohammed al-Rahoumi.
“But amid the spread of coronavirus, we came to the TV channel to receive greetings,” he told AFP.