DUBAI: The Saudi-led military coalition battling Yemen’s Houthi movement intercepted and destroyed drones launched by the Iran-aligned group towards Khamis Mushait and Jazan in southern Saudi Arabia, state media said on Sunday.

The coalition said it would take “necessary operational measures” to protect civilians in line with international law.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said on Twitter that two drones were fired at military hangars in Jazan airport and a military air base in Khamis Mushait.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis after the movement ousted the internationally recognised government from the capital Sanaa.

70 killed in fighting for Yemen’s Marib city

The United Nations and the United States have stepped up diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire deal, which Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Saudi-backed government have welcomed. The Houthis are pushing for the full lifting of the coalition’s sea and air blockade on areas the group controls.

Houthi forces have also launched a ground offensive in Yemen’s gas-rich Marib region, the government’s last stronghold in the north.

Meanwhile, death toll in fighting between pro-government and Houthi rebel fighters for Yemen’s strategic Marib city has climbed to 70, with battles raging on three fronts, loyalist military officials said on Sunday.

The Houthis have been trying to seize Marib, the capital of an oil-rich region and the government’s last significant pocket of territory in the north, since February.

Two officials from pro-government forces told AFP that the rebels were mounting a concerted push that had left 26 loyalist soldiers dead as well as 44 from Houthi ranks. The rebels rarely disclose their losses.

The new toll adds to 53 killed on both sides in the previous 24 hours, according to loyalist military officials.

One of the officials said Sunday that the rebels “are launching simultaneous attacks” in the areas of Kassara and Al-Mashjah, northwest of the city, and Jabal Murad in the south.

“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 Houthi military vehicles, including four tanks and a cannon.” However, the Saudi firepower does not seem to have halted the rebel offensive.

The Iran-backed Houthis 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.

It could also lead to humanitarian disaster, as vast numbers of civilians displaced from fighting elsewhere have sought refuge in Marib.

Around 140 sites have sprung up in the region to provide basic shelter for up to two million displaced, according to Yemen’s government.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2021

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