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U.S. urges Yemen’s rebels to halt attack on central province

CAIRO (AP) — The U.S. on Tuesday urged Yemen’s rebels to halt their attack on the central province of Marib, warning against exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement the Houthis’ attack on Marib, which is held by the rival internationally recognized government, was “the action of a group not committed to peace or to ending the war afflicting the people of Yemen.”

Yemen’s war started in 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition intervened months later to dislodge the rebels and restore the internationally recognized government. The conflict has killed some 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

The rebels earlier this month renewed their attacks on the oil-rich province, an anti-Houthi stronghold. However, they have faced stiff resistance and have not made progress amid heavy air bombing from the Saudi-led coalition.

The latest bout of violence killed dozens of fighters, mostly among the Houthis, and sparked fears of a new humanitarian crisis.

Marib province, the location of the ancient Great Marib Dam, has served as a sort of haven for around 1 million Yemenis who have fled Houthi offensives since the start of the war, the State Department said, citing U.N. figures.

“An assault on the city would put two million civilians at risk, with hundreds of thousands potentially forced to flee — with unimaginable humanitarian consequences,” U.N. Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock tweeted Monday.

Price, the state department spokesperson, also called on the Houthis to stop their cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia.

The rebels have recently intensified attacks using explosive-laden drones and missiles on the kingdom in an apparent attempt to pressure the Saudi-led coalition to stop its air campaign on the rebels in Marib and elsewhere in Yemen.

Price also urged the Houthis to engage “constructively” and “seriously” in efforts by envoys from the U.N. and the U.S. that aim to find a settlement to the conflict.

“The time to end this conflict is now. There is no military solution,” he said.

In an apparent response to the U.S. statement, Mohamed Abdel Salam, a Houthi spokesman, called for the Saudi-led coalition to end its campaign and lift the blockade on Houthi-held areas.

After that, “we are ready to engage positively,” he said.