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Yemen: More than 140 killed in battle for government stronghold of Marib

At least 51 pro-government fighters and 93 Houthi rebels have been killed fighting for control of the oil-rich region
A fighter loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government fires a recoilless rifle against Houthi rebels in al-Kassara, northwest of Marib, on 28 June 2021 (AFP)

At least 140 fighters have been killed in Yemen in the past week in clashes between rebels and pro-government forces in the north-central city of Marib, according to military and medical sources.

At least 51 loyalists were killed in the past four days, most of them in clashes in the province of Shabwa and the neighbouring governorate of Marib, multiple military sources told AFP. They also said that at least 93 Iran-backed Houthi rebels died in the fighting and from air strikes by the Saudi-led military coalition backing the government. 

The Houthis rarely report casualty numbers, but the figures were confirmed by medical sources. 

Last February, the Houthis escalated their efforts to seize Marib, the government's last northern stronghold, and the subsequent fighting has killed hundreds on both sides. Control of the oil-rich region would strengthen the Houthis' bargaining position in peace talks. 

According to the military sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Houthis have made advances and seized four districts - one in Marib and three in Shabwa.  

"Three districts in Shabwa have fallen in limited clashes and within hours," one official told AFP.

'A peacefully negotiated settlement'

Yemen's conflict erupted in 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, prompting a Saudi-led intervention the following year to prop up the internationally recognised government.

This month marks seven years since the rebels took control of Sanaa, with some analysts saying the balance has tilted in favour of the insurgents against the coalition. 

Earlier this week, Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg, the United Nations' new envoy for Yemen, was in Oman, which has played a role as mediator in the conflict. 

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He met with Omani and Houthi officials, including top rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam.

"Sustainable peace can only be achieved through a peacefully negotiated settlement," said Grundberg, according to a statement on Tuesday. "It is imperative that all efforts are directed towards revitalising a political process that can produce lasting solutions that meet the aspirations of Yemeni women and men." 

While the UN and Washington are pushing for an end to the war, the Houthis have demanded the reopening of Sanaa airport, closed under a Saudi blockade since 2016, before any ceasefire or negotiations take place. 

The most recent talks took place in Sweden in 2018, when the opposing sides agreed to a mass prisoner swap and to spare the city of Hodeida, a port that serves as the country's lifeline. Despite agreeing to a ceasefire, violent clashes have since broken out between the rebels and pro-government troops around Hodeida.

Fighting across the country has killed hundreds of thousands of people and left about 80 percent of Yemenis dependent on aid, in what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.