In Yemen, new violence over power station and fuel shortages, as Houthis threaten oil fields

Marib, Yemen’s third-largest city with about 200,000 residents, has been gripped with crisis since the Houthi rebels — who seized the capital Sanaa in 2014 and now control most of Yemen — took control in 2015. Rebels are said to be advancing in Marib, which is in eastern Yemen’s oil-rich Hadramout province, in a push to seize the Al-Alam oil and gas field. The rebels now have a 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) front in Marib.

Overnight the Al-Alam oil field stopped production and almost half of the city’s water pumps went down, residents told Reuters. In a sign of escalation, the rebels also cut off electricity across parts of Marib for the first time since 2015. Civilians reported hearing missiles being fired.

What is Al-Alam?

Al-Alam, which means the “Queen of Heaven,” is an oil and gas field some 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of the country’s second-largest city, Aden. Before its takeover, it was not producing.

The site is one of the country’s largest in terms of oil reserves and is a key industry in Yemen. Al-Alam also pumps natural gas, which, as Reuters explains, helps Yemen meet a need for domestic power.

The Houthis are also preparing for possible war by sealing access roads to the southern port city of Aden, Reuters said, adding that gunmen attacked a military checkpoint in the north of Marib, killing one and injuring three others. The rebels have also closed roads to Aden and other towns, causing confusion among thousands of residents who depend on public transport.

What does this mean for the conflict?

For now, the eastern and central parts of Yemen — where Marib is located — have been spared fighting since the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting to restore Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power began a military campaign there in 2015.

Hadi now lives in exile in Saudi Arabia. The rebel-held capital Sanaa, the country’s most populous city, is also home to some two million civilians.

To what extent is the Marib fighting a sideshow, with the Houthis pressing forward on major city centers?

The government has waged a limited offensive against the insurgents in Yemen’s north, helping the rebels to lose control of the city of Taiz, located just 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Aden.

In August, an air strike on the city killed at least 23 people — many of them civilians — drawing international criticism and an international investigation.

But Marib is much closer to the capital. The rebels now control much of the province and have also repeatedly clashed with local fighters in nearby Jibat and Maribat. In August, local fighters fought off the Houthis, at one point reportedly capturing Marib oil fields.

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