40 civilian casualties in central Yemen in March alone

CAIRO (AP) – The ongoing battle between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and government forces in central Marib province claimed 40 civilian lives in March alone, the UN refugee agency said on Friday.

At least 70 incidents of armed violence, including shelling, crossfire and airstrikes, left civilians injured and killed in the first quarter of 2021, UNHCR said in a statement. UNHCR did not provide a breakdown of those killed and injured, but said the tally was the highest in the oil-rich province since 2018.

Since February, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have been pushing to capture the province from the internationally recognized government in an attempt to complete their control over the northern half of Yemen. If successful, the Houthis could claim a strategic victory after a battle largely stalled in nearly seven years of fighting.

Among the civilian victims, 13 were residing in makeshift camps for displaced families, UNHCR added.

Escalating violence has so far displaced more than 13,600 Yemenis in Marib, which already hosts nearly one million internally displaced people in Yemen, the statement said. Nearly 80 percent of the newly displaced are women and children who live in extreme poverty, UNHCR said.

“UNHCR renews its appeal to all parties to the conflict to take measures to protect civilians, as well as civilian infrastructure, including sites hosting the displaced,” the statement read.

UNHCR has called for urgent support from the international community to alleviate the “desperate situation” of displaced Yemenis, deploring the decline in funds for humanitarian efforts in the poorest country in the Arab world.

Yemen has been in the throes of civil war since 2014 when the Houthis took control of the capital of Sanaa and much of the north of the country, forcing the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee south, then to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led coalition, backed at the time by the United States, went to war months later in an attempt to bring Hadi back to power. Despite a relentless air campaign and fighting on the ground, the war deteriorated into a stalemate, killing an estimated 130,000 people and creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Last month, the Biden administration formally withdrew its support for the coalition, but said the United States will continue to offer support to Saudi Arabia as it defends itself against Houthi attacks.

The Saudis recently offered a ceasefire agreement, but the Houthis refused it.

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