MARIB, Yemen (AFP) – Among the growing number of graves of war dead in the cemetery of the Yemeni city of Ma’rib, one gravestone stands out. In it there are two “martyrs” – a father and a young daughter.
Their family says two-year-old Taher Farag and Lian are inseparable. So earlier this month, when Faraj went to the market to buy food for his wife to make lunch, he took Lian with him.
Along the way, he stopped at a gas station in the Rawda neighborhood of Marib to fill his tank. At that time, while they were waiting in line, a ballistic missile launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen hit the station, followed by the explosion of a drone loaded with explosives. The gas station erupted in a ball of flames, burning vehicles in line.
At least 21 people, including Faraj and his daughter, were killed in the June 5 attack, according to Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
This was the deadliest attack in the months-long offensive launched by Houthi rebels in an attempt to seize Marib, the last stronghold of the Yemeni government in the north of the country. Since February, the rebels have launched their offensive, making only slow progress as Saudi-backed government fighters approached to defend the city and Saudi air strikes caused rebel casualties.
The Houthis fired ballistic missiles and drones at Marib as well, often hitting civilian areas and camps for the displaced. More than 120 civilians, including 15 children, have been killed, and more than 220 wounded in the past six months, according to the government.
At home, Farag’s wife, Jamila Saleh Ali, heard the explosion. She did not think that her husband and daughter were in danger – there are a lot of explosions in Marib. However, I called his phone to be safe. There was no answer. I called again and again, and every time it was not answered.
Then came the cry of her mother-in-law, who lives in the same building. She went out and found her family crying. “I realized that Lian and her father were martyred,” said the 27-year-old. “I went back to my room and prayed to God.”
“She was a fun-loving baby,” she said of Lian, while cuddling the couple’s 10-month-old son. “Her father loved her. He used to say to me, ‘Liane is my king, the boy is yours.’ … He was very attached to her and she was very attached to her father.”
The 32-year-old was a farmer in his hometown of Kharif in northwest Yemen, before fleeing with his family after the Iran-backed Houthis overran much of the country’s north in 2014, including the capital, Sanaa.
Like many displaced from their homes, he settled in Marib, an apparently safe haven outside Houthi territory. He was able to find work driving a taxi. Official statistics indicate that the area is now home to about 2.2 million displaced people, many of them crowded into camps on the outskirts of the city.
They find themselves stuck on one of the last active fronts in a nearly seven-year war, between the Houthis and the government, which controls much of the south and is backed by a Saudi-led coalition. The war has been largely on hold for years, but it continues to wreak havoc, killing more than 130,000 people and causing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
On the same day of the strike on the gas station, an Omani delegation arrived in Sanaa for talks with rebel leaders, including the group’s religious and military leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi. Pressure is mounting on the Houthis to halt their offensive in Marib and agree to a nationwide ceasefire, paving the way for peace talks.
Meanwhile, the residents of Marib suffer from frequent explosions of missiles and drones.
Muhammad Ali al-Houthi, head of the rebels’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said the missile strike targeted a military site, and called for an independent investigation. No evidence was provided.
The gas station is located several hundred meters from the fence surrounding a military camp.
The explosion was very powerful and powerful. “He pushed me to fly away,” said a station worker who was being treated at the main Ma’rib hospital. His right leg was broken and a large part of his body was burned. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to the safety of the family living in Houthi-controlled territory.
We found shrapnel and cremated remains. “There were screams,” said Issa Mohammed, who lives across the street.
Officials and family said that the bodies of Faraj and Lian, charred beyond recognition, were found inside a charred taxi, embracing each other.
“So we buried them in the same grave,” said Faraj’s younger brother, Ayed.