Human Rights

Houthis' siege of Marib district puts tens of thousands of civilians at risk

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi

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Yemeni medics at Marib Hospital treat a girl who was injured in a missile strike on a residential area in the city on October 3. [AFP]

ADEN -- The Marib province district of Abdiya, recently overrun by the Iran-backed Houthis and now under siege, has been declared a disaster area, with Yemeni government officials appealing for help.

The Houthis struck Abdiya's Ali Abdul-Mughni Hospital -- the only one in the district -- with a ballistic missile on October 13, prompting the Marib Health Department to declare Abdiya a disaster area.

Then on October 15, the Houthis announced they had taken control of the centre of the district, following a siege that began September 21.

The United Nations (UN) immediately called for a halt to fighting in Abdiya, which is about 100km from Marib city, AFP reported.

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Vehicles are parked next to stacked items and belongings at a displacement camp about 10km outside the city of Marib on March 28, as camp residents prepare to flee the area because of its proximity to battles between the Houthis and Yemeni forces. [STR/AFP]

It said the movement of aid and some 35,000 people has been "extremely restricted", including for 17,000 "vulnerable" internally displaced persons (IDPs).

"I call on all parties involved in the fighting to agree now to a cessation of hostilities for Abdiya district to allow for the safe passage of civilians and aid workers, and for the evacuation of all of those wounded in the fighting," the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen, David Gressly, said October 15.

Marib, Shabwa and al-Bayda provinces have all seen an escalation in fighting in recent weeks, resulting in "a devastating impact on civilians", Gressly said.

Appeal for help

Yemen's Minister of Information and Culture Muammar al-Eryani launched a Twitter campaign on October 16 to ask for the global community's help.

In a statement published by local media, he accused the Houthis of conducting lawless executions, bombing houses and government buildings, looting shops, and stealing equipment from the only hospital in Abdiya.

The Houthis' continual bombardment of villages and private homes has destroyed six villages and displaced hundreds of families, he said, describing the situation as a "disgrace".

The Health and Population Office in Marib also declared Abdiya district a disaster area, after the bombardment of the hospital caused severe damage to the building and forced staff to evacuate patients.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) condemned the Houthis' missile attack on Ali Abdul-Mughni Hospital in a post on Twitter, noting that the hospital is the only major medical facility still providing urgent care to patients.

Deputy Minister of Health and Population Abdul-Raqib al-Haidari condemned the bombardment of the hospital, which he said houses the children's feeding centre.

He called on international organisations to pressure the Houthis to open safe corridors for the exit of civilians and the evacuation of the wounded, and to allow the entry of food and various types of aid.

Safe corridors needed

US special envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking condemned the recent escalation of violence in Marib, Shabwa and al-Bayda provinces, and denounced the massive siege of Abdiya district that has put civilians at risk.

He spoke with Marib governor Sultan al-Arada via video call on October 16 to discuss the latest developments in the province, local media reported.

Lenderking reportedly called on the Houthis to stop their assault on Marib province and Abdiya district, and to expeditiously open safe corridors for bringing in essential needs for civilians and medical crews.

During a recent visit to the region -- Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Oman -- Lenderking addressed the consequences of the continued Houthi offensive in Marib, the US State Department said.

The Houthi offensive "is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, killing civilians, and defying the international consensus on the urgent need for a peaceful resolution to the conflict", it said in an October 8 statement.

"The continued fighting and prolonged siege have made it difficult to deliver humanitarian aid and exacerbated people's suffering," said National Committee for the Investigation of Human Rights Violations spokeswoman Ishraq al-Maqtari.

The Houthis treat civilians and combatants in the same way, she told Al-Mashareq, and this "aggravates the situation in general and puts the lives of thousands at risk".

She called on international organisations to help shelter displaced residents, deliver aid to civilians and put an end to the siege.

UN calls for de-escalation

The UN Security Council on Wednesday (October 20) called for "de-escalation" in Yemen in a unanimously adopted statement to counter "the growing risk of large-scale famine" in the country, AFP reported.

The 15 council members "stressed the need for de-escalation by all", demanded an immediate nationwide ceasefire and called for an end to the escalation by the Houthis in the strategic city of Marib.

They also "condemned the recruitment and use of children, and sexual violence, in conflict", according to a statement.

"The members of the Security Council expressed grave concern for the dire humanitarian situation, including prolonged starvation and the growing risk of large-scale famine," the text said.

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