Armed men loyal to the government forces guard a site near the Safer oil fields in Marib in a file photo. Image Credit: REUTERS

DUBAI: At least 50 Al Houthi militants and Yemeni pro-government troops have been killed as fighting intensifies for the city of Marib, a key battleground of the seven-year conflict, military sources said on Sunday.

Hundreds have died this month alone after the Iran-backed militia renewed its campaign for Marib, the government’s last stronghold in the oil-rich north.

In the past 48 hours, 43 Al Houthi militants were killed, mostly in coalition airstrikes west of Marib, a military source told AFP, while another source said at least seven loyalists died in fighting. The militia rarely announces its casualties.

About 400 people have been reported dead in clashes in September for the northern city, following a lull in fighting in the region.

The Al Houthis initially escalated their efforts to seize Marib in February, hoping to gain control of the strategically vital city and the region’s oil resources.

Marib, about 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of the militia-held capital Sana’a, sits at a crossroads between the southern and northern regions and is key to controlling Yemen’s north.

About 80 per cent of Yemen’s 30 million people are dependent on aid, in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Yemen’s conflict flared in 2014 when Al Houthis seized the capital Sana’a, prompting Saudi-led Arab intervention to prop up the internationally recognised government the following year.

This month marks seven years since the rebels took control of Sana’a, with some analysts saying the balance has tilted in favour of the insurgents against the coalition.

While the UN and Washington are pushing for an end to the war, Al Houthis have demanded the re-opening of Sana’a airport, closed under a Saudi blockade since 2016, before any ceasefire or negotiations.

The last talks took place in Sweden in 2018, when the opposing sides agreed to a mass prisoner swap and to spare the city of Hodeida, where the port serves as the country’s lifeline.