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Casualties Mount as Fight Over Yemen’s Marib Governorate Heats Up

FILE - Smoke billows during clashes between forces loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebel fighters in Yemen's northeastern province of Marib, March 5, 2021.

U.N. officials are expressing concern about mounting civilian casualties as Houthi rebels and government forces battle for control of northern Yemen’s Marib Governorate.

Marib Governorate used to be a relative haven of tranquility throughout Yemen’s six-year long conflict. As such it has attracted hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the war. That calm was shattered when Houthi rebels, also known as Ansar Allah, tried to wrest control of the territory from government forces in February.

Liz Throssell, spokeswoman for the U.N. human rights office, says the ongoing clashes are having a terrible impact on civilians and civilian buildings. Over the past two weeks alone, she says dozens of people have been killed. Ambulances, a police and fuel stations, a mosque, and other civilian facilities have been attacked by missiles and drones.

“What we have seen in these recent attacks is not what I would consider an escalation—but, of course, all the civilian deaths that these have caused are absolutely tragic," Throssell said. "What it is, is that, of course, Ansar Allah are continuing to launch their missile strikes and drones into areas where the government is. And of course, there is a response from government forces.”

Additionally, Throssell says the Houthis have been continuing cross-border attacks into the territory of Saudi Arabia, which supports the Yemeni government in this long-running civil war.

She says most of those attacks have been against Saudi military targets. However, she notes civilian infrastructure, including airports and industrial facilities have been hit.

She calls on all parties to the conflict to live up to their obligations under international law. They include a prohibition against targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

She says warring parties also are obliged to protect civilians under their control from the effects of attacks and to refrain from targeting military objects in populated areas.

“All parties to the conflict should ensure that any attacks resulting in the death of civilians and destruction of civilian infrastructure are meaningfully investigated," Throssell said. "Victims of arbitrary killings, including those amounting to war crimes, have a right to justice, and perpetrators of such acts, regardless of affiliation, must be duly held to account.”

Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen’s civil war in support of the government in March 2015. Since then, the United Nations says more than 8,100 civilians have been killed and more than 13,000 injured.

The U.N. human rights office is urging the warring parties to go back to the negotiating table and end the suffering by agreeing to a nationwide cease-fire.