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Yemen's Houthis claim new video shows battle victories on Saudi border

Yemeni movement says 2,000 fighters, including Saudis, captured in offensive near Najran in late August
This image grab taken from a handout video released by Yemen's Houthis allegedly shows detained men described by the rebels as pro-government fighters captured in an August offensive near the southern Saudi region of Najran. (AFP)

Yemen's Houthi movement has revealed footage that it says shows a major military offensive near the border with Saudi Arabia that took place last month.

In a televised news conference, Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saria claimed 2,000 pro-Yemeni government fighters were captured during the 25 August operation, including Saudis.

The video footage first revealed in the conference shows hundreds of men, supposedly pro-government fighters, walking on rugged terrain after being rounded up, with some surrendering their weapons.

Speaking to the camera, some captured fighters say they are from Saudi Arabia, with one saying he had been forced to join the fighting.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor the Riyadh-led coalition fighting the Houthis confirmed the attack around the kingdom’s southern region of Najran. They have not commented on the rebels’ claim that Saudi fighters were being held captive.

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The video, played while Saria gave details on the footage, also showed three armoured vehicles being hit by blasts, while other parts showed ammunition being collected in pickup trucks by the Houthi rebels.

Saria said the Houthis had seized light, medium and heavy weapons, as well as armoured vehicles.

“The enemy tried to flee after they realised they were surrounded. The forces include Saudi and Yemeni commanders and soldiers,” Saria said as the video showed a convoy of 10 military vehicles driving away from the camera.

As the video displayed images of the dead bodies of fighters, the spokesman said at least 500 were killed and wounded during the operation, most of whom were Yemenis.

Saria also claimed that Saudi-led coalition air strikes killed more than 200 of the alliance's own fighters, either as they were fleeing or while they were surrendering themselves.

An image of an armoured vehicle the Houthis say they destroyed in an attack on the Saudi border (Screenshot)
An image of an armoured vehicle the Houthis say they destroyed in an attack on the Saudi border (Screenshot)

Analyst Khalil Dewan noted that the Houthis had released such footage before and the latest video is "nothing out of the ordinary for the Houthi movement".

"It simply cannot be verified right now, but it certainly doesn’t look like the number of POWs is in the 'thousands', despite Yahya Saria claiming that 2,000 have been captured," he told Middle East Eye.

“Much of Houthi propaganda is focusing on pressuring Saudi Arabia with military strategy and weapons capabilities.”

No hope for the families

Middle East Eye reported on 24 September that by the end of August, the Houthis had besieged hundreds of fighters for four days in the Wadi Abu Jabara area in the Ketaf district of north Yemen's Saada province, which lies on the Saudi border.

Reports from the area at the time said most of the fighter were either captured or killed, while only a few were able to flee to Najran. 

'These videos killed any remaining hope for the families of the missing fighters, as they now know that their sons are in the hands of the Houthis'

- Ibrahim, pro-government fighter

Families of missing fighters told MEE that they have not been able to gather any concrete information on their sons’ whereabouts since late August.

“I told people and my comrades in my area about our defeat on the borders but they did not believe me, and today they were shocked to watch these videos,” said Ibrahim, a pro-government fighter who fled the battles on the northwestern border in August.

Ibrahim, a native of the southern city of Taiz, told MEE that he was one of the few fighters able to flee the fighting towards Najran during the attack.

He returned to his family two weeks ago and says he is working to persuade people not to join the battle on the border.

“These videos killed any remaining hope for the families of the missing fighters, as they now know that their sons are in the hands of the Houthis. No one can doubt the videos,” said Ibrahim, who wished to only be identified by his first name.

He added that after the August offensive, Saudi Arabia increased the salaries of Yemeni fighters on the border, but the move failed to attract new recruits with many fighters choosing to join the battles against the rebels in central Marib province instead.

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“I was sad to watch some of my comrades among the captives in the video, but I hope we will not lose more friends and relatives in border battles,” he said.

The Houthis have recently stepped up their missile and drone attacks on Saudi territories, and claimed responsibility for an assault on Saudi oil facilities on 14 September, which momentarily halved the kingdom’s oil production

However, Riyadh dismissed the claim, saying the attack did not originate from Yemen.

On 20 September, the Houthis vowed to halt cross-border attacks if the Saudi-led coalition stopped its military operations in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia had given a cautious response, with its Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir saying the kingdom would judge the seriousness of the offer by the action taken by the rebels.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthi rebels seized Sanaa and ousted the internationally recognised government from the capital.

An MEE correspondent in Sanaa contributed to this report.

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