At least eight people were killed in explosions that shook the Yemeni city of Marib in what the information minister said were missile and drone strikes launched by Houthi forces trying to seize the gas-rich region.
Minister Muammar al-Iryani wrote in a Twitter post that the Houthis fired two ballistic missiles and two armed drones and had hit a mosque, a commercial centre and a women’s correctional facility as well as ambulances rushing to the scene.
He put the initial death toll at eight, including women, and said 27 people had been wounded. Two medical sources told Reuters the hospital received five killed and more than 15 injured.
There was no confirmation from the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which has launched an offensive to take the internationally recognised government’s last stronghold in the north of the Arabian Peninsula country.
An army spokesperson earlier told Al Hadath television that the missiles hit a residential area and a commercial market. He said the Houthis launched two drones but that one was downed and the other exploded in mid-air.
“These are the strongest explosions we have heard in Marib in four years” resident Abdulsalam Ghaleb told Reuters.
Earlier this month at least 17 people were killed in an explosion near a petrol station in Marib. The government blamed it on a Houthi missile, but the group said it hit a military camp.
“This (Thursday’s) dangerous escalation confirms the terrorist Houthi militia does not understand the language of dialogue and does not believe in peace,” Iryani said, referring to U.N.-led peace efforts.
Yemen has been mired in violence since the Houthis ousted the Saudi-backed government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia to intervene months later.
The coalition said on Thursday it destroyed a Houthi drone fired towards southern Saudi Arabia, state television reported, the most recent of frequent cross-border attacks.
The United Nations, backed by the United States, is pressing for a ceasefire and for the Houthis to end their offensive in Marib, which hosts around 1 million internally displaced people.
It has also urged the coalition to lift sea and air restrictions on areas held by the Houthis, who say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.
The conflict, seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has caused what the United Nations says is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.