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Pro-government forces guard a site near the Safer oil fields in Marib on September 12, 2021. Image Credit: REUTERS

Dubai: At least 50 militia men and pro-government troops, including a high-ranking officer, have been killed in clashes in Yemen’s central province of Al Bayda, military sources told AFP on Thursday.

“A colonel and 19 other loyalists were killed in the past 24 hours in fighting with the [Al] Houthi insurgents in Al Bayda ditrict,” a government military official said.

“Thirty rebels also met their fate in battlefield clashes and air strikes.”

The Houthis rarely report casualty numbers but the figures were confirmed by other military sources.

The Iran-backed militia has made advances in Al Bayda province in recent weeks as they also fight for control of the strategic city of Marib in the north.

In February, Al Houthis escalated their efforts to seize Marib, the government’s last toehold in the north, and the fighting has killed hundreds on both sides.

Control of the oil-rich province would strengthen Al Houthis’ bargaining position in peace talks.

The battle for Marib has also raised fears of a humanitarian catastrophe, as many Yemenis have fled to the area to escape fighting in other parts of the country.

The conflict in Yemen flared in 2014 when the Huthis seized the capital Sanaa, prompting Saudi-led intervention to prop up the internationally recognised government the following year.

Since then, tens of thousands have been killed and millions pushed to the brink of famine in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg, the UN’s new envoy for Yemen, arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday to meet with Yemeni and Saudi officials, marking his first trip to the kingdom since taking office earlier this month.

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