At least 65 fighters have been killed over the past two days as Yemen’s Huthi rebels make gains in the battle for Marib, advancing towards the city centre, military sources said.
The rebels have taken full control of the northwest Kassara battlefront and made progress on western frontlines despite airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition which backs Yemen’s government.
Marib and its surrounding oil fields make up the last significant pocket of government-held territory in the north, the rest of which is under rebel control, including the capital Sanaa.
Amid fierce fighting, the casualties over the past two days include some 26 loyalist forces, among them four officers, the government sources told AFP. The Iran-backed Huthis rarely disclose their own losses.
With the Huthis taking control of the Kassara front, the battles have moved to the Al-Mil area, which is a mere six kilometres (four miles) from the centre of Marib and its population centres, they said.
However, mountains around Al-Mil remain a formidable barrier to the rebels who launched a fierce campaign for Marib city in February.
The government sources said the Huthis had poured in hundreds of reinforcements in recent days to achieve the gains, resorting to motorbikes after the coalition targeted their military vehicles.
The loss of Marib would be a disaster for the Yemeni government and for Saudi Arabia which has supported it militarily since March 2015, after the rebels captured Sanaa.
The city’s fall could also lead to a humanitarian disaster, as vast numbers of civilians displaced from fighting elsewhere have sought refuge in the area.
Around 140 camps have sprung up in the surrounding desert to provide basic shelter for up to two million displaced, according to the Yemeni government.
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