SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Saturday killed at least 17 people in a government-held city, including a 5-year-old girl, officials said, as a U.S. envoy to the country accused the rebels of failing to try to reach peace in the war-wrecked nation.
The missile hit a gas station in the Rawdha neighborhood in the central city of Marib, according to Ali al-Ghulisi, the provincial governor's press secretary.
Information Minister Moammar al-Iryani said the attack killed at least 17 people and wounded at least five others. All casualties were civilians, he added.
He called on the U.N. and the U.S. to condemn the attack, saying it amounted to a war crime.
There was no immediate comment from the Houthis.
The government-run SABA news agency reported that the rebels also fired an explosive-laden drone shortly after the missile attack. It said the drone destroyed two ambulances that had rushed to the area to transfer wounded to hospitals.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been attempting since February to capture Marib from the internationally recognized government to try to complete their control over the northern part of Yemen.
But they did not make any substantial progress and suffered heavy losses amid stiff resistance from government forces aided by the Saudi-led coalition supporting them.
Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, when the Iranian-backed Houthis swept across much of the north and seized the capital, Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized government into exile.
The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year on the side of the government. The war has killed more than 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Saturday's attack on Marib came just a day after U.S. special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking lashed out at the rebels, accusing them of failing to try to reach an urgently needed cease-fire. He said the Iranian-backed Houthis bear the major responsibility for refusing to engage meaningfully and to take steps to "resolve a nearly seven-years conflict that has brought unimaginable suffering to the Yemeni people.”
Lenderking’s remarks came in a statement late Friday by the State Department after his return from a Mideast diplomatic mission on Yemen that took him to Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
He also criticized the Houthis’ renewed offensive on the oil-rich Marib province, an anti-Houthi stronghold held by the internationally recognized government that is crucial to the country’s energy supplies.
The ongoing Marib attack, which began in February amid an international and regional diplomatic push to end the conflict, has left the rebels “increasingly isolated," Lenderking said.
The State Department said Lenderking coordinated his efforts closely with the U.N. special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, who held video talks last week with the Houthis’ religious and military leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi.
Griffiths expressed frustration that his efforts to achieve a cease-fire have been derailed by warring parties seeking gains on the battlefield.
He urged the sides to seize the “considerable regional and international support” for the U.N. peace plan.
Lenderking’s rebuke to the Houthis came as the U.N. Security Council criticized the rebels for delaying a technical assessment of an oil tanker moored off the war-torn country’s coast loaded with more than 1 million barrels of crude oil.
An Omani delegation, meanwhile, arrived in Sanaa for talks with rebel leaders that aim to advance the peace process, according to Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the chief Houthi negotiator.
Another Houthi official said the delegation arrived on an Omani military plane and would try to convince Houthi leaders to halt their offensive on Marib and return to the negotiating table in Oman’s capital of Muscat.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
The visit came after Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone Friday with Omani Foreign Minister Badr bin Hamad bin Hamoud al-Busaidi.
Blinken reiterated the need for “an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire to help bring the war in Yemen and the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people to an end,” according to the State Department.
Associated Press writer Samy Magdy contributed from Cairo, Egypt.