MARIB -- Markets in Yemen's embattled Marib city were bustling with people gearing up for the Eid al-Fitr holiday Thursday (May 13) despite fighting that has raged nearby between government forces and the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah).
While shoppers crowded the streets of the city this week to buy clothes, sweets and nuts for the feast marking the end of Ramadan, pro-government forces stood guard with rifles in hand.
Since February, Yemeni forces have faced a fierce Houthi campaign to take over the city and its surrounding oil fields, which make up the government's last significant foothold in the north of the country.
But residents seem indifferent to what is happening on their city's doorstep, in a clear sign of their rejection of the Houthi offensive.
For resident Yehya al-Ahmedi, it is clear that the people of Marib do not want Houthi rule.
"The Houthis have not learnt the lesson... as they continue to try and enter the city, that the people reject them and the reality rejects them," he said.
"They will continue to kill themselves on the outskirts of the city, and the people here will live in the joyous atmosphere of Eid... as if there is no war."
Marib remains a sanctuary for now
"The turnout this Eid is just like every other year," said Mohammed Ibrahim, a shop owner. "Despite what's happening around Marib, thank God, everything is good."
Marib, about 120 kilometres east of Houthi-held Sanaa, had witnessed relative stability since the war erupted in 2014 -- becoming a safe haven for hundreds of thousands who fled frontline fighting.
Its loss to the Houthis would be a major blow for Yemen's government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and could unleash a humanitarian disaster for the region's civilians.
Both sides sustained heavy casualties at the peak of the fighting, which went into a lull earlier this month during talks in Oman aimed at securing a ceasefire, only to flare up again in recent days.
But far from the frontlines, twinkling lights have been strung up around shops and stores in Marib, where families browsed through the many stalls selling products ranging from raisins and candy to sandals and watches.
Customers could be seen haggling with a vendor selling new clothes for the holiday, while others walked around and chatted.
And while some customers complained of price inflation and of the struggles of war, many said they found comfort in the city's ability to remain a sanctuary for now.
"Despite the Houthi missiles and the high prices, there is great joy in the hearts of the citizens of this city because there is security and safety," said store owner Hamdi Ahmed.
UN switches up Yemen envoy post
Since February, the United Nations (UN) has been pushing for a nationwide ceasefire, the lifting of restrictions on ports and airports, and the launch of a political process to end the conflict.
But intense diplomacy has yet to yield results.
The UN on Tuesday said its envoy for Yemen since 2018 Martin Griffiths is set to leave his post soon. Griffiths was named to be the global body's humanitarian chief Wednesday, succeeding Mark Lowcock.
Griffiths -- like his predecessor as envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania -- was unable to stop the conflict and suffered a rupture of relations with the Houthis.
The United States last week denounced the Houthis for refusing to meet Griffiths as President Joe Biden's administration steps up diplomacy to end the war.
"A mediator cannot force the parties to negotiate," Griffiths told a Security Council meeting on Wednesday as he deplored the "relentless military escalation" by the Houthis as they try to take Marib.
It was not immediately clear who would take on the UN job on Yemen.
"For Yemenis, the battle of Marib has an existential importance -- for their lives, their children, their future", the head of Yemen's office of the presidency, Abdallah al-Alimi, said last Friday.