Yemeni Officials Say Battle for Key City Intensifies

MARIB, Yemen (AP) -- Heated battles have taken place in recent days between forces of Yemen's internationally recognized government and the country's Iran-backed rebels around the strategic city of Marib, Yemeni officials said Sunday. The rebels, known as the Houthis, have been trying to seize the area for months.

Yemeni military officials and tribal leaders from the area said that an estimated dozens of fighters have been killed or injured in the recent fighting. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, and tribal leaders asked that their identity be concealed for their own security.

Since Friday, Houthi forces launched attacks on several frontline areas in the outskirts of Marib, said Lieutenant General Saggeer Azeez, chief of staff for the military of Yemen's internationally recognized government. He confirmed that the fighting led to casualties among Yemeni government forces.

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes responded to the attacks on Sunday, according to Maj. Gen. Nasser al-Zaibani, director of military operations of the Yemeni army, which fights alongside the coalition. Meanwhile, a Houthi official said that they have deployed at least 200 additional fighters to the frontline near Marib in the past 24 hours. He also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

The Houthis have been attempting since February to capture Marib to complete their control over the northern part of Yemen. But they have not made substantial progress and suffered heavy losses amid stiff resistance from government forces aided by the Saudi-led coalition supporting them.

This week's fighting also comes amid attempts by Yemen's neighbor, Oman, to broker peace talks between the Houthis and the government.

Last week, the United Nation's outgoing special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said he hoped a recent diplomatic effort by Oman, which has played a mediating role in other Mideast conflicts, would bring results. He expressed "deep regret" that he had failed to mediate an end to the conflict during his tenure.

Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, when the Houthis swept across much of the north and seized the capital, Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized government into exile.

The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year on the side of the government. The war has killed more than 130,000 people and spawned the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The fight for Marib also threatens to escalate the wider war and has stirred international outcry because the city houses over a million displaced persons, many of whom live in camps on the outskirts of the city.

Houthi missile and explosives-laden drone attacks have hit residential and civilian areas inside the city itself. Earlier this month, they hit a gas station, killing a total of 20 people, including children, according to Liz Theissen, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.