Yemen’s president has called on the military to stay alert following a missile attack that reportedly killed dozens of soldiers over the weekend.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi blamed the attack in Marib on the Houthi rebels, a militia group that is said to be backed by Iran. The move “confirms without doubt that the Houthis have no desire for peace,” he said in a statement via state media, Reuters reported Sunday. The Houthis have not confirmed that they were behind the incident.
Saudi state-run al-Ekhbariya TV reported that 79 soldiers were killed in the attack. Neither Yemen’s government nor the Houthis has confirmed the details.
Yemen’s Ministry of Defense told CNN that the attack was “to avenge the killing of the Iranian terrorist Qasem Soleimani,” who was killed by an American drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3. The ministry didn’t provide any further details about why officials believed that to be the case.
Yemen’s Defense Ministry said it’s “armed forces will remain the solid rock that breaks the ambitions” of Tehran’s military moves in the Middle East, according to state-backed media. CNN also reported that the attacks took place as the soldiers were praying at a mosque.
The United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, condemned the apparent escalation of military activities in Yemen, the world’s poorest Arab nation.
“I have said before that the hard-earned progress that Yemen has made on de-escalation is very fragile. Such actions can derail this progress,” warned Griffiths in a statement on Sunday. “I urge all parties to stop the escalation now and to direct their energy away from the military front and into the politics.” He called on both parties to return to the negotiation table to resolve the years-long military conflict.
Yemen has been the site of a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran after a Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015 to restore Hadi’s government. Hadi was the longtime vice president under Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country for more than 20 years before stepping down in the wake of protests.
Hadi’s government was then ousted from power by the Houthis, a Shi’ite group, who also took over the capital, Sanaa. They have denied being backed by Iran and have said they are fighting against a corrupt system.
Tensions in the Middle East have been high following the killing of Soleimani, Iran’s top general, after which Iran conducted a retaliatory attack on Iraqi bases holding American troops. Iranian leaders have also made threats of future attacks on U.S. assets in the region while simultaneously pulling out from some of its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal.