On the front lines west of Marib, the last major city under full government control in northern Yemen, fighting is still fierce.
The Houthi rebels, despite six years of military intervention led by Saudi Arabia to counter their attempt to take control of the Yemeni state, are on the offensive.
If Marib falls, it would highlight the Saudis’ failure to defeat an armed group seen as a motley pro-Iran militia at the start of the war. It would also prove disastrous for a Yemeni government that has struggled to brand its authority even over territory under its nominal control as it faces enemies within the anti-Houthi camp.
Yet men like Adel Al-Qardaie are still fighting for the Yemeni government in Marib. The soldier has been on the front lines against the Houthis since 2015 – and sees it as his patriotic duty.
“Marib will not fall because of the two million people who fled here from across the country, as well as the original inhabitants of Marib,” Al-Qardaie told Al Jazeera on hiatus from the fighting. “They won’t let him down. Marib is the last refuge for those who have been oppressed by the Houthis. They will defend Marib until the last person.
Al-Qardaie said the situation at the front was constantly changing. The Houthis have been sending reinforcements to the governorate since the start of their last offensive in the region in early February. However, despite early success, they did not go further than 30 km west of the town of Marib and government defenses held.
Potential for peace?
After the Houthis invaded much of Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes in the early hours of March 26, 2015.
With the Houthis on the attack again six years later, Saudi Arabia unilaterally announced a new ceasefire proposal on March 22, which would see direct UN-backed political negotiations between the Yemeni government and the Houthis for the first time since late 2018. Yet Houthi leaders quickly rejected the proposal, calling it not serious, and Saudis hit the Houthis. capital Sanaa with air raids the following night.
“Saudi Arabia must declare an end to the aggression and lift the blockade completely, but coming up with ideas that have been discussed for over a year is nothing new,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed said. Abdulsalam.
“The countries of aggression [the Saudi-led coalition] must stop all military operations against Yemen, withdraw their forces and end the siege unconditionally, ”in exchange for an end to the Houthi cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti, another Houthi, said on Twitter leading.
The comments seemed to reflect the Houthis’ confidence in their current position. The new Biden administration in the United States has removed the Houthis from its list of foreign terrorist organizations and indicated he would not be willing to give Saudi Arabia the free pass of its predecessor. Since then, the Houthis have stepped up their military actions on the ground in Yemen and stepped up their attacks on Saudi Arabia, targeting airports and oil facilities.
“The Houthis took the initiative militarily, no one else did,” said Maged Al-Madhaji, executive director of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. “They decide where the battles will take place, and they are stronger. They didn’t accept a deal when they were weaker militarily, so why would they accept one when they are stronger and the military situation is in their favor?
While the Houthis have the upper hand, Yemeni government forces have attempted their own offensives in recent weeks in central Taiz governorate as well as in Hajjah in northeast Yemen. The offensives have been relatively successful so far, indicating that the Houthis may be slightly overloaded.
The reality is that while the Houthis form a united and cohesive unit, the anti-Houthi side continues to be divided. In Taiz, forces supported by the United Arab Emirates and loyal to Tareq Saleh, former president Ali Abdullah SalehHis nephew is as suspicious of Islah, a political party linked to the Muslim Brotherhood that dominates the military leadership of the government in Taiz, as they are of the Houthis.
Tensions also persist between supporters of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Southern Transitional Separatist Council, despite the inclusion of members of the latter in a unity government end December.
“There is no way the anti-Houthi camp will actually unite in Yemen,” Al-Madhaji said. “The only thing to do is to change the way the Yemeni government works. But that means we have to ask ourselves the question: What is the status of President Hadi, Vice President Ali Muhsin and other leaders, and what have they been doing in the past seven years? “
Civilians are suffering
As the war continues, Yemeni civilians continue to suffer in what the UN calls the the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The un estimates the war claimed 233,000 lives, including 131,000 from indirect causes “such as lack of food, health services and infrastructure”. The war also devastated the Yemeni economy, climbing Food prices, and leave the country with the second highest level of income inequality in the world.
“The state of human rights in Yemen is appalling and the warring parties continue to cause immense civilian damage,” Kristine Beckerle, Mwatana’s legal director for human rights, told Al Jazeera. “But at the same time, you have these incredible efforts on the part of Yemenis – women, youth, civil society – to document, advocate and lobby for a different trajectory for the country.
“They are asking for responsibilities and reparations, so many years after the start of the conflict. It is high time that states listened to these people rather than armed war profiteers. “
And yet, for fighters like Al-Qardaie, war is an existential battle, not a battle they are still willing to give up.
“No battle takes place without sacrifice,” Al-Qardaie said. “The Houthis attacked our lands, our homes and drove our people away. We are now in a situation where we are fighting for our lives. Its a question of life or death. “