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Yemen Factions Gear Up for Key Battle  08/30 12:47

   SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Yemen's warring factions on Sunday braced for a key 
battle in a central province, where victory could allow pro-government forces 
to move rapidly north into the heartland of the country's Shiite rebels.

   Security officials from both sides said the focus was now on Marib, an 
oil-rich province that supplies the rebel-held capital of Sanaa with 
electricity and fuel, after months of combat and airstrikes that have killed 
some 2,000 civilians, according to the U.N.

   Pro-government forces have recently tightened their grip on the province's 
capital, also called Marib, while the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, have 
consolidated their positions on its outskirts, digging trenches and laying 
mines in nearby Jawf, security officials from both sides and witnesses said.

   If pro-government forces manage to push the rebels out of Marib, they could 
potentially advance rapidly across Jawf, a flat, desert province bordering 
Saudi Arabia that is also a gateway to Saada, the rebels' northern stronghold, 
where Saudi planes have been dropping flyers urging people to support the 
"legitimate" government of internationally-recognized president Abed Rabbo 
Mansour Hadi.

   Yemen's conflict pits the Houthis and allied units of the splintered army 
against forces loyal to Hadi as well as southern separatists, local militias 
and Sunni Islamic militants. Hadi and his government are in exile in Saudi 
Arabia.

   In their foothold in Marib, the pro-government forces were joined earlier 
this week by hundreds of Yemeni fighters, fresh from military training in 
neighboring Saudi Arabia, which has been leading the Arab coalition launching 
airstrikes against the Houthis since March, pro-government security officials 
said.

   Since last week, the anti-rebel forces have set up camp for military experts 
from United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and renovated a local oil company's 
airport, which received the latest planes carrying military equipment from the 
coalition on Sunday, the officials added. At least six Apaches have landed thus 
far, they said.

   Meanwhile, the Houthis in Saada tried and failed to persuade one of Yemen's 
most senior military officials who claims neutrality and controls many troops, 
a man known as Maj. Gen. al-Amalaqa, to bolster their forces in Marib.

   Nevertheless, former President Saleh said his forces, along with the 
Houthis, are "waiting" for the pro-government forces, in a televised speech on 
his Yemen Today channel.

   The anti-rebel forces, pro-government security officials said, aim to push 
north to Jawf rather than the mountainous capital of Sanaa, because Houthi 
fighters there are less vulnerable to the Saudi airstrikes. If the 
pro-government forces seize Jawf, the officials said, they will move on to 
Saada instead of Sanaa.

   Officials have also prioritized Saada over the capital because its fall, as 
the main Houthi encampment, would be a greater moral blow to the rebels, 
activist and analyst Nabil al-Mohamedi told The Associated Press.

   Also, if pro-government forces capture Sanaa first, they would appear to 
have won the civil war, making attacks on Saada seem cruel and unnecessary in 
the eyes of the international community, al-Mohamedi added.

   Earlier Sunday, gunmen on a motorcycle shot dead the local head of security 
while he was driving on a busy street in the southern port city of Aden. No one 
claimed Sunday's attack, but officials suspect al-Qaida because the group has 
used motorcycles in previous assassinations and hitting a moving target from a 
speeding motorcycle requires specialized training.

   Last week, high-ranking police officials in Aden said hundreds of al-Qaida 
militants and Islamic extremists had moved into the port city, exploiting a 
vacuum left by pro-government forces pushing north.

   All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not 
authorized to brief reporters.


(KA)


 
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