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In a fabled desert city, a decisive battle could determine Yemen's fate

April 23, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 23.7%. 2 min read.

Marib is a tiny island of hope in a sea of discarded dreams. After six years of war, the city of more than 2 million people has emerged as pivotal in Yemen's future.

Fading posters of Yemen's President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi hang alongside much newer images of the city's latest war hero-turned-Houthi target, the head of Yemen's special forces, killed late February.

If it lost Marib, Hadi's government and its Saudi backers would have little leverage at eventual peace talks with Houthi rebels, would lose military credibility, and likely encourage the Houthis to continue fighting.

The Houthis control almost everything west of Marib including the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

Hadi, the head of the internationally recognized government, has been in forced exile since the Houthis chased him out in 2015.

They point to US President Joe Biden's recent decision to end American support for Saudi Arabia's military campaign against Houthi rebels.

All feel that Biden's diplomacy has emboldened the Houthis, resulting in a ramping up of attacks on Marib.

Yemeni officials are trying to figure out if Biden is out of his depth, miscalculating the Houthis, or if his Yemen policy is simply a by-product of his policy to entice Iran back to compliance with the nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Yemen's Information Minister Moammar al-Eryani plays a video of a man he says is an injured Houthi fighter, captured during a recent attack.

By design or default, Biden has created a new pivot in Yemen's war here in Marib and the Houthis' reinvigorated reach for the city it is forcing all sides to face dormant questions.

That the Yemeni government's principal backers, the Saudi government, recently offered the Houthis a countrywide ceasefire, and are calling for more international pressure on the rebels, is a significant sign that the diplomatic ground in Yemen is shifting.

​At the time, the Houthis were rapidly advancing on Marib and Saudi Arabia was trying to stop the rebel group in its tracks.

A slight Houthi lull in attacks in recent weeks, both on Saudi Arabia and Marib, has been accompanied with a little back-channel diplomacy with Yemeni officials.

As Saudi airstrikes are one of the only counter measures holding back the Houthi push for Marib, the rebels' counteroffer has been a non-starter so far.

Along the fragile front lines near Marib, government forces are very thinly dispersed, and a low and incomplete mud berm is all that separates them from the Houthis in plain sight across the near-flat scrubland less than half a mile away.

Marib's special forces have lost their commander twice in the past two months and, while the Houthis are selective whom they go after, their success rate has officials more rattled they were a few years ago.

Money comes from Saudi's humanitarian King Salman fund, but the clinic's success -- it has treated 42,000 patients since it opened in October 2019, including 2,400 surgeries, sometimes as many as 20 per day according to Dr. Mismari -- comes from the dedication and determination of the Yemeni staff whom return to homes every day that risk Houthi shelling.

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by summa-bot

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