LONDON: The US urged Yemen’s Houthi militia on Tuesday to halt their advance on the government-held city of Marib and take part in international efforts to find a political solution to the violence in the country.
“The Houthis’ assault on Marib is the action of a group not committed to peace or to ending the war afflicting the people of Yemen,” the State Department said.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates that around one million Yemenis have sought refuge in Marib during the six-year war to escape Houthi violence.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia resumed an offensive to seize the strategic oil-rich Marib earlier this month. The city is 120 kilometers east of Yemen’s capital Sanaa, which was seized by the Iran-backed militia in 2014.
“This assault will only increase the number of internally displaced persons and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, already home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe,” the State Department said.
If the Houthis were serious about a negotiated political solution to the crisis, then “they must cease all military advances and refrain from other destabilizing and potentially lethal actions, including cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia,” the statement added.
The Houthi militia has launched a series of drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia this month, including an attack on Abha airport that damaged a commercial aircraft.
Earlier on Tuesday, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said the Houthi offensive threatens to displace hundreds of thousands and complicates a renewed diplomatic push to end the war.
“An assault on the city would put two million civilians at risk, with hundreds of thousands potentially forced to flee — with unimaginable humanitarian consequences,” Lowcock said.
UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths has said the resumption of Houthi hostilities near Marib was extremely concerning at a time of renewed diplomatic momentum.
The US special envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking said Washington was “very aggressively” using back channels to communicate with the Houthi militia.
Lenderking told a State Department press briefing that the US is working to energize international diplomatic efforts with its Gulf partners, the UN and others, to create the right conditions for a cease-fire and to push the parties toward a negotiated settlement to end the war.
He said he visited Riyadh last week and met with the Saudi leadership and UN envoy Griffiths, as well as Yemen’s president and foreign minister.
During talks with Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Lenderking discussed a drone attack on Abha airport in southern Saudi Arabia which led to a passenger plane being set on fire.
They had lengthy discussions on what could have happened had there been people onboard the aircraft.
“Attacks against Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport and civilian infrastructure by the Houthis are not the actions of a group that claim they want peace, and they must stop,” he said.
Lenderking added that the US is not going to allow Saudi Arabia to be “target practice” and that the Kingdom needs to have the ability to defend itself.
“Unless and until Yemen’s Houthis change their reprehensible behavior their leaders will remain under significant US and international pressure.”
He also said Iran must stop its lethal support for the Houthi militia and called on Tehran and other “stakeholders and those with a say in the issue to rally around and support our efforts.”
“We maintain that a political solution that brings the parties together is the only way to bring lasting peace to Yemen and lasting relief to the people of Yemen,” he said.