CAIRO -- A yearlong battle over the strategic Yemeni city of Marib has displaced about 100,000 people., the international charity group Oxfam said Tuesday.
The stark warning underscored how the fighting over Marib has worsened an already dire humanitarian situation of the displaced, many of whom have fled multiple times from fighting elsewhere in war-wrecked Yemen, Oxfam said.
Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels launched an offensive in February last year to capture Marib, sweeping through the surrounding province — also named Marib — to reach the city's outskirts, with the aim of completing their control of Yemen’s north.
However, their efforts collapsed earlier this year when Yemeni government forces, supported by airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition, and their Emirati-backed allies known as Giants Brigades pushed back, retaking large swaths around the city, including the province's second largest district.
“Ordinary people who have sought refuge in a place once described as an oasis of calm have become collateral damage in a protracted conflict,” said Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s director in Yemen.
The group said at least 43 airstrikes hit civilian targets, including houses and farms, in January in the province. Land mines, improvised explosive devices, and shelling also targeted civilians in Marib. Eight people killed by land mines in January alone, compared to five over the past year, Oxfam said.
“Children have been killed while tending farm animals and even gathering firewood can be deadly. I am particularly worried by reports that records are not kept of where land mines are,” Siddiquey said.
The province of Marib has hosted about 1 million displaced — a quarter of the overall number of 4 million displaced — with 80% of them women and children, according to the United Nations. Local authorities put the Marib figure at around 2 million.
As fighting intensified, the Houthis stepped up cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Elsewhere in Yemen, government forces and their allies have almost completed the retaking of the district of Harad in the coastal Hajjah province bordering Saudi Arabia. Retaking Harad will enable the reopening of al-Tawal border crossing, the largest between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It has been closed since 2015.
The war in Yemen — the Arab world’s poorest country — began in 2014, when the Houthis took the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen, forcing the government to flee to the south, then into exile in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi-led coalition, backed at the time by the United States, entered the war in 2015 to try to restore Yemen's government to power.
The conflict has since become a regional proxy war that has killed tens of thousands of people, both fighters and civilians, and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.