The Yemeni government warned on Saturday of an impending “security and humanitarian disaster” as a coalition led by Saudi Arabia stepped up a military offensive against the Huthi rebels in the city of Marib.
“The war and the aggression are getting closer and closer and could easily become the start of an open war,” President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi told state-run SPA news agency from the United Arab Emirates capital, Abu Dhabi.
Militants linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have threatened to strike back against Saudi Arabia in response to the offensive. The group earlier this week denounced the coalition for moving to “open war” and warned that it would target “all war planes, and even those of the allied brothers” if the threat turns into actual action. The Saudi-led coalition is known to drop bombs on Yemenis and has been suspected of carrying out air strikes that killed an 8-year-old boy and several others in March.
“People in Marib will resist the invasion and stand up to the aggressors to maintain their rights and stand up to the Al Qaeda militia that are behind a campaign against the city and their families,” said a Western diplomat in the Gulf country.
Yemeni government forces, including members of Saudi-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government, launched an attack on the city of Marib on Friday. Marib, located on the border with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab emirate of Kuwait, is estimated to have substantial reserves of oil, gas and precious metals, and it has also become a central base for Houthi militants.
The Huthis swept into Marib in 2014 and have maintained a blockade on the capital, Sanaa, since March of 2015 that has prevented critical supplies from reaching the government and its citizens.
Hadi’s government last month said it had begun moves to reverse its blockade, and claimed to have finished destroying large stockpiles of the Houthi militia’s oil, gas and weapons. It had also been reported last month that Qatar, the country that originally backed the Houthis in Yemen, had sent over a million tonnes of food to the country. However, negotiations with the Houthis to end the crisis were further complicated by the declaration earlier this month by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of a military blockade of Qatar.
Hadi’s office said the entry of Qatari food and medicine to Yemen would not be exempt from the new blockade, according to Gulf news site The National.
The Houthis have taken heavy losses this week, with hundreds killed and wounded by coalition airstrikes and artillery strikes. They have responded by firing missiles across the border into Saudi Arabia, including into the kingdom’s capital, Riyadh.
Several international rights groups have condemned the coalition, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which issued statements last month raising concerns about a Saudi-led coalition airstrike on an air base near the Houthi stronghold of Saada that killed at least 140 civilians, many of them children.