Saudi-led coalition pounds Yemen rebels near central city

The Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemen's Shiite rebels pounded the insurgents' positions on Thursday with heavy artillery fire on the outskirts of the central city of Marib, part of their push to retake the capital, Sanaa.

PTI| Updated: Sep 17, 2015, 22:08 PM IST

Marib: The Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemen's Shiite rebels pounded the insurgents' positions on Thursday with heavy artillery fire on the outskirts of the central city of Marib, part of their push to retake the capital, Sanaa.

The heavy bombardment came hours after the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, aired footage on their satellite television channel purporting to show a Saudi soldier held as a prisoner of war. A top al-Qaida leader in Yemen meanwhile praised the campaign against the Houthis and called for Islamic rule in the Arab world's poorest country.

The dull thud of artillery fire rumbled across Marib but its residents, many armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, appeared unperturbed by the nearby fighting. Many crowded a market to buy qat leaves, a mild narcotic widely consumed in Yemen.

Marib is the capital of the largely desert province of the same name east of the capital. Authorities say the coalition is targeting Houthi positions near the Marib dam and the town of Sirwah, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west on the road to Sanaa.

The provincial capital is held by forces loyal to exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Deputy governor Abdo Rab Ali said 80 percent of the province is controlled by pro-Hadi forces while the Houthis control the rest.

The war in Yemen pits the Saudi-led coalition against Iranian-backed Houthis and troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Others opposing the Houthis include southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants and troops loyal to Hadi.

Coalition troops and allied Yemeni forces will have to traverse rugged mountains as they push westward toward Sanaa. It is an area that Emirati Brig. Gen. Ali Saif al-Kaabi likened to parts of Afghanistan, where Emirati troops were deployed as part of the NATO-led mission.