While welcoming calls for a ceasefire, Houthis escalate attacks in Marib
Despite voicing support for a call by the UN Secretary-General for Yemen’s warring parties to cease hostilities in order to address the coronavirus pandemic, the Houthis escalated their ground and artillery attacks in several areas of the country over the weekend. Serwah district of Marib governorate, which lies east of Sana’a and borders Marib city, witnessed the largest escalation.
The fighting in Serwah was the most intense since the start of the war five years ago, according to a military official in the Ministry of Defense, who asked to remain anonymous as he is not authorized to speak to the press. The Friday morning attack in Serwah by the Houthis resulted in more than a hundred dead and wounded on both sides, in addition to hundreds of combattants being taken prisoners of war by government forces, the source told Almasdar Online.
The Houthis launched attacks in the mountainous terrain near to the government-held Kofal military camp in Serwah, which is effectively the last line of defense between the front in Serwah and Marib city, located about 35km to the east. While sending hundreds of fighters to the front in Serwah, the Houthis simultaneously launched katyusha rockets at Marib city, the Defense Ministry source said.
According to eyewitnesses in Serwah, Houthi officials are mobilizing and recruiting fighters in the area, including by seeking to convince locals to join by telling them that “death on the front lines is better for you than death by coronavirus in your homes.” This appears to be a recruitment tactic the Houthis have adopted more broadly, as a Houthi supervisor was recently recorded saying a similar phrase during an interview.
Relatedly, in Taiz governorate, south of Sana’a, one civilian was killed and three others from the same family were injured on Friday night when an artillery shell fired by the Houthis struck a house in the Old Airport neighborhood in the west of Taiz city.
The attacks on Friday came only days after the Houthis announced their support for a nationwide ceasefire in response to a call from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to unite efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. “We affirm our full readiness to all efforts and initiatives, within the framework of a comprehensive and real truce that affects the people,” said Mehdi Al-Mashat, head of the Sana’a-based Supreme Political Council (SPC), in a speech published by pro-Houthi media.
The Yemeni government also welcomed the UN’s call, with state-run Saba news reporting on Wednesday “the government welcomes UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call for a ceasefire to address the consequences of the spread of the coronavirus and to reduce the country’s level of escalation completely.”
“The political, economic, and health situation in Yemen requires the halting of all forms of escalation, and standing with the global humanitarian effort to preserve the lives of citizens and deal responsibly with this epidemic,” the government’s statement said.
However, the escalation in Marib, Taiz, and other areas of the country have placed doubt on whether the ceasefire will realistically be implemented on the ground, amid continued mobilization and local recruitment by the Houthis.