During the last few weeks, pro-government forces in Yemen are preparing to defend the city of Marib, its last stronghold in the north, from advancing Houthi militants, Reuters reported.
If the province of Marib goes to the Houthis, it will deal a blow to the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which has been fighting this group with ties to Iran for more than six years.
The looming battle for the city of Marib will also threaten its population of three million, including nearly 1 million who have fled from other parts of Yemen since it became embroiled in a regional power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea announced on November 2 that the Houthis have taken over the Marib al-Juba and Jebel Murad areas after capturing al-Abdiya and Harib last month, stating that “our mujahideen are continuing to march towards the city of Marib.”
They have advanced in most areas of Marib, Yemen’s only gas-producing region, home to one of the country’s largest oil fields.
It is unclear whether the Houthis will launch a direct offensive against the provincial capital of Marib or move on to seize nearby oil and gas facilities and siege the city.
Their territorial conquests in Marib, as well as in the oil-rich Shabwe in the south, are taking place despite coalition airstrikes and fierce fighting that have resulted in heavy casualties on both sides and the death of civilians.
“Houthi control over all of Marib looks like only a matter of time, although it could take several months if government forces get better weapons from the coalition and overcome divisions between them,” said Maisa Shuja Al-Din, a research fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies of Sana’a.
Government forces say they will not give in. Trenches, sandbags, and landmines have been installed throughout the city, according to two military sources and a local official.