Yemen’s president condemned on Sunday an attack by Houthi rebels on a government military camp, as authorities said fatalities had risen to at least 79 troops.
Ballistic missiles smashed into a mosque in the training camp in the central province of Marib late Saturday, wounding 81 others during evening prayers, according to Abdu Abdullah Magli, spokesman for the Yemeni Armed Forces.
The U.N. envoy to Yemen delivered a stern warning about the recent spike in military activity across multiple provinces, noting with “particular concern” the airstrike that hit the military camp.
“The hard-earned progress that Yemen has made on de-escalation is very fragile. Such actions can derail this progress,” said Martin Griffiths.
Yemen’s Foreign Ministry estimated the death toll reached at least 100.
The oil-rich province of Marib lies about 115 kilometres (70 miles) east of the Houthi-controlled capital, Sanaa. The city is a stronghold of the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition.
The missile strike was the bloodiest attack in Marib since the beginning of Yemen’s long-running civil war, marking a military escalation in a rare spot of relative stability.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi described Saturday’s assault on Muslim worshipers as an act of “blatant aggression” that underscored Houthis’ “lawlessness” and “unwillingness” to make peace, according to Saudi Arabia’s state-run news agency. He denounced the Houthis as “a cheap Iranian tool in the region.”
The Houthi faction, for its part, defended its deadly strike as the latest in a series of embarrassing defeats for the Yemeni government.
“It appears that (coalition forces) have not learned the lessons of five years of fierce military confrontation,” said Sharaf Lokman, a Houthi official. “Coalition forces have failed politically, militarily and morally.”
Yemen’s defence ministry placed the military on heightened alert at nearby bases, directing troops to “take precautions” ahead of imminent battle.
“This attack will be answered harshly,” Magli warned in a televised statement. Coalition forces said they launched “massive assaults” on rebel targets northeast of the capital, killing and wounding dozens of Houthi fighters.
Yemen’s civil war erupted in 2014 when Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels seized Sanaa, and much of the country’s north, ousting President Hadi.
The conflict became a regional proxy war months later as a Saudi-led coalition intervened to try and restore Hadi’s internationally-recognized government, which rules in exile in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
Both Houthi rebels and Saudi-led coalition forces have been accused of war crimes and rampant human rights abuses in Yemen. Indiscriminate coalition air strikes and rebel shelling have drawn widespread international criticism for killing civilians, hitting non-military targets and undermining peace efforts.
The grinding war in the Arab world’s poorest country has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced over 3 million and pushed the country to the brink of famine. Meanwhile, fighting has settled into a bloody stalemate.