Yemen peace: Rebel forces surround airfields in Marib, says local official

Image copyright AFP Image caption “First we call on the people to pray, then we strengthen our defence systems and retaliate.”

Yemen’s defence ministry says that rebel forces have surrounded two airfields in Marib, a province where rebels are battling Saudi-backed forces.

The Marib military sources said the rebels had managed to take several tanks from the troops fighting them.

In response, Marib’s governor called on residents to hold back and pray for the region. He also said armed Houthi fighters had been injured in the fighting.

The Houthis fought a lengthy civil war against their Yemeni rivals until December last year, when the two sides signed a UN-brokered ceasefire.

The war has killed more than 10,000 people and left the country on the brink of famine.

Yemen has three major airfields in the north – Marib, Hajjah and Taiz.

Yemeni troops control Taiz, which is an energy-rich province, but face severe rebel pressure to take control of Marib, which borders Saudi Arabia.

The city’s oil refinery has been the target of previous airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, which backs the Yemeni government.

Yemen’s military sources said on Monday that Marib’s former governor had arrived in the city from the southern port city of Aden, which has been controlled by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government since 2015.

Riyadh backs Mr Hadi’s government, while the Houthis are allies of Iran.

In a statement quoted by state media, the Marib military officials said that security officials were deployed in various areas of the city to “prevent any breach of the security plans”.

Marib Governor Jamal Sadeh told Reuters news agency he wanted to avoid a “escalation” in the city and push the rebel forces into a “deadlock”.

Image copyright AFP Image caption The UN says food aid delivered to Yemen is inadequate

He told the news agency: “First we call on the people to pray, then we strengthen our defence systems and retaliate.”

He added that Marib would choose which battles to fight, based on the needs of its population.

“The city has undergone 20 years of war, so it has toughened its muscles.”

The Houthis are refusing to hand over military positions taken in Marib during the war, which began in 2015.

The conflict between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed Government of Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi began with a coup in 2014.

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