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Yemen's Houthis advance on Marib after capturing mountain

The government's loss of Mount Hilan threatens Marib’s first line of defence
A fighter loyal to Yemen's Houthis attends the funeral of fellow combatants killed in battles with Saudi-backed government troops, in Sanaa on 28 February 2021 (AFP)

Yemen's Houthi fighters have seized a strategic mountain overlooking the city of Marib, in a major advance against the government-held province that saw dozens of casualties on both sides, government sources said on Friday.

The Iran-aligned group has been pushing to seize the government’s last northern stronghold and the capital of a region rich in oil.

The Houthis "took control of Mount Hilan overlooking the city, after fighting which left dozens of dead and wounded on both sides," one of the sources told AFP.

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"Marib is in danger," another said, adding that the loss of the mountain posed "a threat to Marib's first line of defence".

The loss of Marib would be a huge blow for the Yemeni government, and would also put civilians, including one million displaced people residing in camps in the surrounding desert, in danger.

The Houthis, who have controlled the capital Sanaa since 2014, had "cut the supply lines of some fronts and are now within firing range of the al-Mashjab line west of Marib city," the source added.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in 2015, imposing a naval and air blockade to prevent the smuggling of weapons to the fighters from Iran, allegations Tehran denies. 

The Houthis say there will be no ceasefire agreement before the coalition lifts its blockade. 

Hours before the news of the capture was reported, the United Nations Security Council condemned the "escalation" of clashes around Marib city and warned of a worsening humanitarian catastrophe.

In a statement, the council also called for de-escalation by warring parties, “including an immediate end to the Houthi escalation in Marib", and condemned the "use of child soldiers in Marib".

The escalation in the north comes as the United States has renewed its push for a political solution in Yemen, as the war nears its sixth anniversary.

Last week, in a joint statement released by the US State Department, western governments condemned the Houthi attack on Marib.

"We, the governments of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, condemn the sustained Houthi offensive on the Yemeni city of Marib and the major escalation of attacks the Houthis have conducted and claimed against Saudi Arabia," the statement said.

Marib is a strategic oil and gas hub. In addition to its oil fields and its Safer oil refinery, Marib is also a key producer of natural gas, supplying the entire country.