Yemen’s Houthi rebels made important gains in the battle for the government’s last northern stronghold, advancing close to the centre of Marib city despite heavy casualties, reports said on Sunday.
The rebels took full control of the northwest Kassara battlefield and made progress on western front lines despite air attacks by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that backs Yemen’s government.
Marib and its surrounding oilfields make up the last significant pocket of government-held territory in the north, the rest of which is under rebel control, including the capital Sanaa.
Fierce fighting has killed at least 65 people over the past two days alone, including some 26 loyalist personnel, among them four officers, AFP news agency reported.
The Iran-aligned Houthis rarely disclose their own losses.
Unofficially Yemen’s government said the Houthis poured in hundreds of reinforcements in recent days to achieve the gains, resorting to motorcycles after the coalition targeted their military vehicles.
The loss of Marib would be a big blow for the internationally recognised Yemeni government and for Saudi Arabia, which has supported its militarily since March 2015 after the rebels captured Sanaa.
About 140 camps have sprung up in the surrounding desert to provide basic shelter for up to two million displaced people, according to the Yemeni government.
The escalation in hostilities has displaced 13,600 people in Marib this year, according to the UN refugee agency.
Lacking clean water and electricity, makeshift settlements are overflowing and camp residents say they have repeatedly come under Houthi shelling.
The rebels have also stepped up missile and drone attacks against neighbouring Saudi Arabia in recent months, demanding the opening of Yemen’s airspace and ports.
On Sunday, the Houthis said they attacked and hit the King Khalid airbase in Khamis Mushait with a drone in southern Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi Arabia-led coalition said it intercepted and destroyed it.