Houthis claim Eid advance with capture of military sites in Saudi Arabia
Eid al-Fitr was not a time of peace on the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where a war has been raging for the last four years.
Yemen's Houthi rebels launched an incursion into Saudi Arabia to mark the end of Ramadan, claiming to have captured several military positions in the southern Najran province of the kingdom.
As they have in years before, the Houthis declared that Eid, the end of Ramadan, which they celebrated on Wednesday, would be "Eid on the Frontlines," and threatened to advance on local fronts, including in the Yemeni provinces of al-Jawf, al-Dhale and Taiz.
Ansarallah spent the whole year fighting the mercenaries at several fronts, including fronts inside Saudi Arabia, and for Eid they doubled their efforts
- Abu Hashem, a Houthi fighter
By Wednesday, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarei told the pro-Houthi Saba News Agency that the Iran-aligned group had captured 20 military positions in Najran since the weekend.
"The forces overwhelmed the positions in an attack carried out along three separate military axes," Sarei said.
He said more than 200 fighters affiliated with the Saudi-led coalition had been killed or wounded during the recent battles while others were captured with large quantities of military equipment.
The Houthis have since 2015 been fighting a Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in the country to try to restore the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, ousted from power by the rebels. Over four years, the war has claimed thousands of lives and pushed the country to the brink of starvation.
This week, the Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV channel broadcast videos supposedly showing Houthi forces killing some pro-Saudi fighters in Najran. Middle East Eye could not independently verify their authenticity.
Abu Hashem, a Houthi fighter who has been involved in several fronts during the course of the war, confirmed that Houthi fighters had not, like most Muslims, spent Eid at home with their families, but had been at the front lines.
"Ansarallah [the Houthis] spent the whole year fighting the mercenaries at several fronts, including fronts inside Saudi Arabia, and for Eid they doubled their efforts to achieve new advances," he told Middle East Eye.
"The happiness comes when we advance on ground and defeat Saudis inside their country and mercenaries inside Yemen."
Everyone celebrates Eid in their own way, he said, and Houthi fighters celebrate by capturing new military positions.
Most of the those fighting for Saudi Arabia in Najran are not Saudis, but desperate Yemenis engaging in combat for the sake of money.
A Yemeni fighter in Najran confirmed to MEE that the Houthis launched heavy attacks on the province.
"By the end of Ramadan, some colleagues took leave and travelled to celebrate Eid with their families. The Houthis knew about this, so they took advantage and launched some attacks," said the fighter, who did not want to be identified.
"When we felt that we could not resist the Houthis, we withdrew from some military positions to avoid major losses, but that does not mean the Houthis achieved a major advance."
He said fighting was still going on on many fronts in Najran, and the leadership of the military brigades in the region had asked the fighters who were on leave to return immediately.
"I am sure we will recapture the military positions as soon as our colleagues return in the coming few days," he said, predicting casualties on both sides.
We know that Houthis take advantage of the public holidays to take over new areas, so we prepared ourselves
- Jamal, a pro-Hadi fighter in Taiz
Houthi advances in Taiz and Hodeidah have been stymied by forces loyal to the exiled President Hadi.
Battles have raged in Taiz province since Tuesday, and some civilians were reported killed and injured by shelling in the last three days in Taiz.
"The Houthis tried to advance in the Forty Metre Street and in the southern front, but we confronted them as no fighter took leave to celebrate Eid," Jamal, a pro-Hadi fighter in Taiz told MEE.
"We know that Houthis take advantage of the public holidays to take over new areas, so we prepared ourselves very well to confront them."
An official told MEE on Friday that Houthi shelling on Wednesday targeted residential areas in Taiz city and killed and injured least 16 children while they were celebrating Eid.
Happiness became grief
Mohammed, a 25-year old graduate from Taiz University's computer sciences department, had been looking for work in Taiz and Sanaa for more than a year, but he had little luck and eventually became a fighter in Najran to pay the bills.
Mohammed has been fighting to defend Saudi Arabia from the Houthis for the past six months. He sent some money to his family so they could enjoy Eid with enough food and new clothes.
Mohammed's mother said they had bought all they needed to celebrate Eid and also helped some needy people their village celebrate the festival.
But while the family were celebrating the festival on Tuesday, bad news came to the family through Mohammed's cousin.
"While we were sitting in my father's house, my nephew entered and told us that Mohammed was killed in Najran," Um Mohammed told MEE.
"We lost the happiness of Eid, and I prayed for Allah to forgive me that I allowed him to join battles in Saudi Arabia."
Um Mohammed could not hold back her tears while she was speaking about the subject.
"I only want to send a message to all mothers to prevent their sons from joining the fighting. Sons are dearer than money, sons create happiness and not money."
Mohammed's family have not been able to get his body back in the wake of the Houthi advance.
"Both warring parties are responsible for the blood of Yemenis," Um Mohammed said.
"They are leading battles, and desperate Yemenis are the victims of this atrocious war."