At least 11 residents of an energy-rich town in Yemen were killed Saturday when Houthi militia stormed the city while local officials sought to shore up defenses after Houthi rebels appeared to have won the last battleground in a three-year conflict against Houthi rebels backed by supporters of Yemeni leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi.
Riyadh, an impoverished city that straddles the capital Sanaa’s northern outskirts, remained held by pro-Houthi supporters after the Houthis took hold of nearby Marib province in a bombing campaign launched several weeks ago.
Pro-Houthi militiamen drove hundreds of people from Riyadh and stormed the city center Saturday, Yemeni activist Iyad al-Marashi told the Washington Post, revealing the extent of the damage.
Marib province is the only area in Yemen that has been under the control of pro-Houthi forces for most of the three-year civil war and is pivotal in securing the port city of Hodeida. Tens of thousands of residents of Hodeida were evacuating the city in the past week, after the coalition declared a complete cutoff to Hodeida last week.
“Marib is not a small city. The strategic importance of it goes without saying,” al-Marashi said. “Right now, Marib is the most critical tribal stronghold left [in] Yemen.”
Militiamen from the Houthi-controlled Presidency for the Popular Committees and Local Councils, on Wednesday launched an aerial bombing campaign, backed by airstrikes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, against Riyadh.
Houthi militias continue to advance across Yemen, despite an unprecedented U.N.-brokered truce and road-to-destruction deal that ended months of U.S.-led coalition bombing and ground hostilities that began in March 2015.
The Yemeni government was unable to protect Riyadh from the Houthi militia, whose fighters have overstretched their military resources throughout the three-year conflict.
It is not yet clear where the Yemeni government’s ground forces will send reinforcements as Marib-based local officials ordered residents to stay put.
“The city of Riyadh is in a critical situation,” Saleh al-Joubouri, a Marib journalist and media activist, said. “Even if a rebel force enters the city, nothing should be expected.”
He said civilians in the capital have started moving to alternative locales as recently as the last day to escape both rebel militia and coalition airstrikes, causing the population to decimate around the city.
Another local journalist and activist, Ammar Anam al-Rahimi, said he had recently relocated with his family from Riyadh to Hodeida, hoping to get away from the spread of Houthi militias.
He said that as the war continues, he feared the danger for his family was far greater than the danger in Hodeida.
“We are all stuck in Marib,” al-Rahimi said. “We are surrounded here by Houthi militias and airstrikes. What can we do?”