CALLS FOR CEASEFIRE IN YEMEN’S STRATEGIC MARIB AS FIGHTING ESCALATES
On 10 April, the battle for the strategic city of Marib in Yemen intensified, as the Saudi-backed government forces tried to repel Iranian-backed Houthi rebel fighters. The Houthis – who hold the capital of Sanaa, along with much of northern Yemen – have been trying to seize the city since February, but recent assaults have been more violent. Marib is not only rich in gas and oil, but it is the government’s last stronghold in the north. Losing Marib would be a heavy blow for both the internationally recognised Yemen government and its Saudi ally, which has recently also come under increased retaliatory Houthi missile and drone attacks on its oil facilities. Capturing Marib would put the Houthis in a stronger bargaining position in peace talks, and possibly determine the future of the country. The battle for Marib could also have far-reaching implications for US relations with Middle Eastern states, especially Iran. Furthermore, the once relatively stable city hosts the highest concentration of displaced Yemenis. More than two million civilians have sought refuge from Houthi violence in Marib camps. The six-year war has led to a humanitarian catastrophe, where as many as two-thirds of Yemenis are food insecure and up to 400,000 children under five are estimated by the UN to be severely malnourished and face death. While both sides recognise the crisis and accuse the other side of putting civilians at risk, neither are willing to stop the fighting. The Yemen government, along with the US and UN, have called on the Houthis to halt their advance, especially to prevent the consequences of a worsening humanitarian crisis, already described by the UN as the worst in the world. The US, which recently lifted the Trump administration’s designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organisation and ended American support for the Saudi-led offensive, advocates for a negotiated settlement as the only way forward. Although the outcome of the battle for Marib is uncertain, there are enormous implications for the new peace process launched by the Biden administration and for the trajectory of the war.
From a Christian perspective, the state considers all Yemenis to be Muslim, and it is illegal to leave Islam. Thus, most of Yemen’s small Christian population keep their faith secret to avoid facing the death penalty. Yemeni believers face persecution from the authorities and Islamic militant groups, while also suffering physically as emergency relief is mostly distributed through organisations that use local Islamic leaders and mosques that reportedly discriminate against anybody who is not considered to be a devout Muslim. There are also accounts of Yemeni believers being refused treatment at under-resourced hospitals. According to a reputable source, despite this hostility, the community of believers in the country is growing. Some of the growth is directly attributable to the situation caused by the war, as well as amongst the Yemeni diaspora, who sometimes feel called to return to the country or commit themselves to minister to the Yemeni diaspora. There are hopes that an end to the war would result in many more believers returning to the country. There are reports of local believers being full of joy, hope and passion, even though some face treacherous circumstances. Believers (like so many Yemenis) have suffered profound loss, some are imprisoned, questioned, scattered, isolated, and discriminated against as refugees. As Christians, we can rejoice that amidst such a dire crisis, God can work things for good, and can bring about spiritual life where there is physical death and destruction. While we need to pray for a breakthrough in the current situation (political, economic, and humanitarian), we can thank Him for what He is doing in the invisible realm and intercede for a further breakthrough in the spiritual battle raging over Yemen, where Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that our struggle truly lies.
Please pray with us for the following:
- For the new peace process to gain traction and a negotiated settlement to be reached, leading to lasting peace and stability for Yemen
- Praise the Lord for those of the Yemeni diaspora who have come to know Him, and have a passion to reach their compatriots – pray for increased opportunities for these believers, both abroad and within Yemen
- For believers in Yemen to be anointed with courage and perseverance in the face of persecution, that they can overcome feelings of isolation and fear
Image: REUTERS/Ali Owidha