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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Yemen's Houthis launch missile attack hours after agreeing to peace talks

Residents shaken by a string of 'tremendous explosions'

Pro-Houthi Yemenis attend a rally against the Saudi-led military operations in Yemen, in Sanaa. EPA 
Pro-Houthi Yemenis attend a rally against the Saudi-led military operations in Yemen, in Sanaa. EPA 

The Arab coalition intercepted four ballistic missiles launched by the Iran-backed Houthi group on the western city of Marib in Yemen, a representative for the government's armed forces confirmed on Sunday.

"Tremendous explosions repeated four times between nine and 10pm last night," Yaqoob Al Barakani told The National. "They were Houthi ballistic missiles fired from rural areas in northern Sanaa to target military bases including the Sahen Al Jen base and the headquarter of the 3rd military base in Marib, but they were all intercepted."

The attack on residential areas on Saturday came hours after Yemen's warring parties agreed to attend peace talks in Sweden to discuss the country's continuing conflict and deteriorating humanitarian situation. The Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels have shown a "renewed commitment" to work on a political solution to end a war that has driven millions to the brink of famine, UN envoy Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Friday.

But soon after in Yemen, a series of blasts tore through the night.

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"The explosions were really huge, it was the first time I heard such explosions," said Mr Al Barakani, lamenting that the intensity of the attack had spread fear among the civilian population. "They weren't expecting the Houthis would keep practising such criminal actions while the international community is talking about a ceasefire and peace negotiations."

According to Col Abulmajeed Al Azraki, the Houthi group believes the protraction of violence and war will help them stay in power in the north. "They are a group based on terror and blood, they believe that fighting is the only factor that prolongs their control over the northern provinces and any solution based on peace will melt their power and put an end to them forever."

On Wednesday the Iran-backed rebels fired a ballistic missile at Hodeidah port, only hours after pro-government forces announced a halt in an offensive on the city.

Marib resident and activist Mubarak Al Tamimi said the escalation of violence in his city and Hodeidah is further proof of the Houthi group's unwillingness to seek a peaceful end to the conflict.

"I have no hope that the Houthis will put down their arms and come back to the negotiating table," Mr Al Tamimi told The National. "Peace is not a choice for them, they are proxies for Iran, they don't have their independent decision, so what Iran says will be done."

Meanwhile on Saturday, pro-government forces liberated a number of areas in the southern governorate of Taez, including Makbana and Jabal Habashi a captain in the Yemeni army told The National.

"The army launched a big offensive, and advanced in the district of Makbana liberating military sites amid fierce confrontations [and] killing more than 13 Houthi fighters," Capt Mohammed Al Nakeeb said.

North of Taez, in Hodeidah, residents said Houthi fighters had been going on mass round-ups and imprisoning civilians in the city centre.

"The Houthis stormed the residences of those who refused to take part in the fight along with them accusing them of being sleeper cells working for the joint forces and the coalition," a resident told The National.