Houthi rebels have attacked the Saudi-backed Yemen government’s stronghold of Marib. The news comes days after Biden vowed to end all US support for “offensive operations” in Yemen.
The Iranian-backed rebels renewed their push to capture the oil and gas-rich city, a hub for Saudi and government troops.
As they advance, the UN’s Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths tweeted about his extreme concern at “the resumption of hostilities in Marib, especially at a time of renewed diplomatic momentum to end the war and resume the political process.”
He stressed the need for a negotiated political settlement which would satisfy the “aspirations of the Yemeni people”. It is the only “sustainable solution”, he said.
UK ambassador to Yemen Michael Aron condemned the attack on Marib and another on Al-Jawf and called on the Houthis to have faith in the peace talks.
“We strongly condemn the Houthis’ targeting of Marib and al-Jawf, he said. “They must stop these attacks and demonstrate sincerity in wanting peace” by supporting Griffiths’s efforts.
In a major foreign policy speech, made last week, President Biden stated that the war in Yemen “has to end”. “And to underscore our commitment, we’re ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales,” he said.
“At the same time,” he admitted “Saudi Arabia faces missile attacks, UAV strikes, and other threats from Iranian-supplied forces in multiple countries. We’re going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people.
Though Biden did not address Iran in the speech, he has shown willingness to reenter the nuclear deal and lift sanctions on the country on condition that it stops enriching uranium. However, Iran’s state TV quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as refusing.
“If (the US) wants Iran to return to its commitments, it must lift all sanctions in practice, then we will do verification then we will return to our commitments.”
Since Biden’s speech, state department sources said that the administration was “deeply troubled” by the latest attacks.
“As the President is taking steps to end the war in Yemen and Saudi Arabia has endorsed a negotiated settlement, the United States is deeply troubled by continued Houthi attacks,” a spokesman said on Sunday. “We call on the Houthis to immediately cease attacks impacting civilian areas inside Saudi Arabia and to halt any new military offensives.”
US secretary of state Antony Blinken has also declared his intent to reverse the Trump-era designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group.
Mike Pompeo’s designation of the Houthis as terrorists risks impeding humanitarian work in Yemen, aid groups said. Organisations distributing aid in Houthi-controlled territory faced prosecution under US law for doing so.
The humanitarian crisis that has enveloped Yemen since 2015 has cost the lives of over 18,000 people and displaced 250,000 more, according to report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW). HRW described as the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world”. Over 20 million people – two-thirds of the population – needed food assistance at the beginning of 2020.
It is “catastrophic”, said Bishop Paul Hinder, the Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia.
“With the continuation of the conflict, the problem of poverty has worsened: there is hunger, there is a shortage of food, prices have risen due to the high rate of inflation.” He also noted that “cholera and lack of water afflict the population”.