Markets in Yemen’s embattled Marib city are bustling with people gearing up for the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, despite fighting that has raged nearby between government forces and Houthi rebels. While shoppers this week crowded the streets of the city to buy clothes, sweets and nuts for the feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, pro-government forces stood guard with rifles in hand.
Since February, loyalists have faced a fierce Houthi campaign to take over the city and its surrounding oil fields, which make up the government’s last significant foothold in the north of the war-torn country. But residents are eager to celebrate the holiday, even in the shadow of the long conflict that has devastated the country and plunged it into what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. “The turnout this Eid is just like every other year,” Mohammed Ibrahim, a shop owner, told AFP. “Despite what’s happening around Marib, thank God, everything is good.”
Marib, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the rebel-held capital Sanaa, had witnessed relative stability since the war erupted in 2014 — becoming a safe haven for hundreds of thousands who fled frontline fighting. Its loss to the Iran-backed Houthis would be a major blow for Yemen’s government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and could unleash a humanitarian disaster for the region’s civilians. Both sides sustained heavy casualties at the peak of the fighting, which went into a lull earlier this month during talks in Oman aimed at securing a ceasef ire, only to flare up again in recent days.
But far from the frontlines, twinkling lights have been strung up around shops and stores in Marib, where families browsed through the many stalls selling products ranging from raisins and candy to sandals and watches. Customers could be seen haggling with a vendor selling new clothes for the holiday, while others walked around and chatted with absolutely no health measures in place or masks to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
And while some customers complained of price inflation and of the struggles of war, many said they found comfort in the city’s ability to remain a sanctuary for now. “Despite the Houthi missiles and the high prices, there is great joy in the hearts of the citizens of this city because there is security and safety,” Hamdi Ahmed, a store owner, told AFP. The UN has sought to broker a deal between the warring sides, but intense diplomacy has yet to yield results.
“For Yemenis, the battle of Marib has an existential importance-for their lives, their children, their future,” the head of Yemen’s office of the presidency, Abdallah Al-Alimi, said on Friday. For Yehya Al-Ahmedi, a city resident, it is clear that the people of Marib do not want Houthi rule. “The Houthis have not learnt the lesson… as they continue to try and enter the city, that the people reject them and the reality rejects them,” he told AFP. “They will continue to kill themselves on the outskirts of the city, and the people here will live in the joyous atmosphere of Eid… as if there is no war.” – AFP