The battle of Marib intensifies and the dizzying tally of the dead accumulates. The Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen claimed on Sunday (October 17th) that it had killed around 165 Houthi rebels south of the strategic city.
A thousand Houthi fighters are believed to have perished in airstrikes in a week, the coalition says. Reports which, if they cannot be verified from an independent source, bear witness to the violence of the fighting. The only certainty, by the admission of both camps, the rebels are progressing.
Since the spring, the Houthis, a military-religious group of Shiite origin, from the north of the country and supported by Iran, have been trying to occupy the province of Marib, defended by a coalition of tribal militias and by forces loyal to the president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, himself dislodged from the capital, Sana’a, in February 2015; an event that precipitated Saudi Arabia’s intervention.
In this battle of attrition, the outlines of a new balance of power are emerging that the Houthis seek to impose on the ground. Located 120 kilometers from Sanaa, at the gates of the central desert of Yemen, the city is the last stronghold of the government in the north of the country. Opposite, his Houthi opponents are convinced that a victory in Marib will end the war in the North, improve their position to negotiate with Saudi Arabia and consolidate the economic viability of the territory they control.
Oil and gas reserves
The governorate of Marib has significant gas and oil reserves: the region produces nearly 10% of the diesel fuel and, above all, 90% of the liquefied petroleum gas consumed in the country. Which is used for cooking and heating in almost all Yemeni households.
The local authorities, who have taken part of the manna, have been able to maintain a certain stability and ensure relative prosperity to the province, which hosts nearly 750,000 displaced persons, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Today on the defensive, their options appear limited.
“An offer was made to the tribes of Marib by the Houthis almost a year ago: to denounce the Saudi-led coalition, to drive out the militants of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and of the Islamic State of the governorate, and share oil and gas revenues ”, describes Abdulghani Al-Iryan of the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies. “Local leaders could keep their posts and benefit, at least for now, from some local autonomy. There is some interest in the deal: the tribes have suffered significant losses and some worry that the Houthis may bear more losses. After all, they draw their recruits from a population of over 20 million… ”
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