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Yemen’s Marib province has been hit with airstrikes and skirmishes by Houthi forces advancing into the heart of Yemen from the west.
Marib has been a gateway for the Houthi militias into Saada province, where they are allied with rebel forces who are fighting government troops.
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Marib, the second-largest province in Yemen by area, is also an oil-producing region with one of the biggest proven oil reserves in the Middle East.
Information minister Mohsen al-Awbani said there were clashes in Marib’s rural western countryside, with Houthi forces making advances, and hitting military vehicles in the northern part of the province with precision air strikes.
The Houthis also shelled Yemen’s central Saada province, their stronghold where residents have been fleeing to avoid pro-government forces, said officials in the capital Sana’a.
The UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, was making a surprise visit to Saada province.
But locals said pro-government forces were deploying. Their advance is another attempt to ease UN sanctions imposed on the Houthis.
One of those weapons, the Alexiya and Ford missile systems, which are Iran-made, are identical to the US-made Tomahawk cruise missiles that were used to bombard militants in Syria.
Officials in the Houthi movement denied any new missile attack on a Saudi navy vessel. However, it has been reported that the rebels have a similar weapon.
Griffiths had told the state news agency Saba: “The [UN] secretary general expressed his hope that all parties who oppose military escalation and support peaceful political solutions can reach an accord and hold intra-Yemeni talks to begin without delay.”
After months of escalating international pressure, the Saudi-led coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said on 11 February that talks on ending Yemen’s war were imminent.
The talks would be Yemen’s first direct negotiations since two rounds of indirect negotiations between the government and the Houthis in Kuwait in early 2018.
Saudi-led troops retook Sana’a from the Houthis in 2015. However, they continue to face fierce resistance in the north.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in the war, the vast majority civilians. A Saudi-led coalition intervention was condemned by many nations, who, like the US, have offered military support to the government.