Yemen president vows to defend city controlled by Houthis

At least nine rebels killed as president vows to defeat armed Houthis who hold key to how rebels will conduct their coup

Yemen’s president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, has vowed to defeat the Houthi rebels who control the state-controlled Arabian peninsula city of Marib, which controls access to one of the country’s most lucrative power stations.

The remarks came as fighting intensified in Marib, a mountainous area in the west of the country that had been part of Hadi’s home province of Aden before the northern-based Houthis captured it in 2014.

Hadi has remained in exile in Saudi Arabia since last year, forced to cede power to the Houthis and leave Yemeni oil field access in the hands of the rebels.

He is fighting to regain the port city of Aden, which the Houthis seized in 2014 and where he still has a small enclave. The governor of the province of Saada, where Hadi is based, has said the president should cut off access to Marib.

In a speech in Jeddah on Monday night, Hadi said Marib would remain under the control of his government and the security forces which continue to maintain security in the region.

He blamed the Houthis for smuggling in anti-tank missiles and added: “We will pursue the Houthis anywhere, in Marib, in front of Marib’s city centre or anywhere else.

“It is possible to capture Marib and to break their hands and their ability to continue with their aggressive acts,” he said, adding that he wants to help the army to retake more of the country’s territory from the militia.

Marib, which straddles the main road to Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, is considered a fertile region of the Saudi-Yemeni border, which falls under a US-backed offensive by coalition air forces.

Casualties from the new round of fighting are mounting, including a battle that broke out near the capital on Sunday between Houthi fighters and fighters from the internationally recognised government’s Shahidah military brigade.

Marib’s fortunes have changed since last year when Hadi issued an ultimatum to the Houthis to quit the city within five days or face military retribution.

He has also been addressing groups outside the army that he calls the Salafis, who have been working with the Houthis and the northern army against the government.

Critics say Salafis in Marib and around the country are recruiting children, who join up with the militias with no training.

One Salafi leader was killed in the southern city of Aden in 2015.

The commander of Marib’s army said it was the army that was repelling the Houthis and has called on the Salafis to join the military.

“The Salafis can deal with the Houthis more effectively than anyone else,” said the commander, who did not want to be named for security reasons.

He denied accusations that the new assault was being prompted by US pressure, as some analysts have suggested.

“This is not related to the American and western role,” the commander said. “The Americans do not control this conflict.”

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