The outcome of ongoing conflict between the government and Houthi rebels now involves a struggle for control of Yemen’s easternmost province, Marib, home to its largest natural gas fields.
The latest developments follow a series of advances by rebels at the expense of government forces. As reported earlier, the rebels have surrounded the capital, Sanaa, and attacked a vital oil facility at Ras Isa, where they had managed to take control of an oil export pipeline.
Now, the rebels have declared their intention to bring east Yemen to a standstill by destroying all energy infrastructure, the Associated Press reported Friday. “The coalition forces will be wiped out by the end of this year or soon afterwards,” Shiite militiaman Ali Abdeljabbar told the agency.
Marib province is known for its natural gas reserves, including three fields currently producing 10 billion cubic meters per year. The government maintains that Houthi forces only target the natural gas facilities and are acting in flagrant disregard of the use of gas to power the power sector.
The Shia rebels, known as Ansar Allah, take their name from the plural of the name of their leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi. Sanaa is the rebels’ de facto capital, and the group controls large swaths of the country.
The country is reeling from a proxy war between the rebels and forces loyal to the internationally recognized president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. For the past four years, war has ensued between the two sides, producing more than 50,000 civilian deaths and millions displaced from their homes.
In recent months, the Houthis have advanced out of the capital and into eastern Yemen, where they have seized the port city of Hodeida and the oil export facility at Ras Isa. On Thursday, the rebels called on civilians to leave Hodeida, but there are still a number of international aid organizations in the city.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has been devastating. An estimated 40 million people require aid, and more than 3 million people have already been pushed into famine. The United Nations is calling for $4.8 billion to stop the deaths.
For years, the Saudi-led coalition had largely ignored the bombardment by the Houthis of Marib, despite providing air cover to government troops. The rebels said they had no plans to remove their “national protection forces” from Marib.
“The photos and videos on social media are fake, fabricated. The pictures on TV are nothing but desperate preparations for a solution that will come in the media,” said Brig. Gen. Abdel-Jabbar al-Hadi, a spokesman for the Yemeni government, according to the Associated Press.