Fighting is intensifying around the Yemeni city of Marib since government forces captured neighboring Shabwa province last week.
Reuters reported today that a pro-Yemeni government militia backed by the United Arab Emirates known as the Giants Brigade has joined the fight at Marib to push back Houthi rebel forces attempting to capture the oil-rich enclave.
The report comes just two days after the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, warned of a dangerous escalation in the seven-year conflict, which has pushed the Arab world’s poorest country into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
On one side is Yemen’s government, backed by a military coalition of neighboring states led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, armed through much of the conflict by the US and other western countries, though the US has halted offensive support.
On the other is Yemen’s Houthi rebels, a Zaydi Shia movement that ousted the government from the capital at Aden in 2015. The Houthis have increasingly received weapons and training from Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival in the region, in recent years.
A UN-backed push for a ceasefire between the two sides has led nowhere, as Yemen’s rebels have failed to take up last year’s offer from Riyadh for a halt to the hostilities.
The Houthis have demanded a complete lifting of the Saudi-enforced blockade of Yemen.
The Houthis’ deputy governor for Shabwa province was killed in the violence, the Houthis acknowledged last week.
Meanwhile, US officials say the Houthis continue to receive arms shipped from Iran, a charge the Islamic Republic has denied.
The renewed fighting around Shabwa and al-Jawf has displaced some 15,000 civilians, United Nations officials said this week.
“There is no sustainable long-term solution to be found on the battlefield,” envoy Grundberg told the Security Council on Wednesday.
“We appear to once more be entering an escalatory cycle with predictable implications for civilians and for the immediate prospects of peace,” Grundberg said.
The UN envoy warned that the fighting could spread to other areas. Last month the Houthis seized an Emirati-flagged hospital ship. The rebels released video appearing to show military equipment aboard the vessel.
The Houthis have continued to lob ballistic missiles and explosive drones into Saudi Arabia, as the Riyadh-led coalition has upped its bombing campaign within Yemen.
Last month the Gulf coalition bombed sites at Sanaa’s international airport, saying it had been used for Houthi drone storage and command centers. The rebels said the airport was knocked out of service for receiving UN aid.
With no sign to an end to the violence in sight, the UN’s deputy head for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, Ramesh Rajasingham, said this week that civilian casualties in December reached 358, equal to the highest number in three years.
The UN’s World Food Program slashed food aid to Yemen this month due to a major budget shortfall.