At least 50 rebels 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  government military official said “A colonel and 19 other loyalists were killed in the past 24 hours in fighting with the Huthi insurgents in Al-Bayda ditrict”.

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

“Thirty rebels also met their fate in battlefield clashes and air strikes.”The Huthis rarely report casualty numbers but the figures were confirmed by other military sources.

In February, the Huthis 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 the Huthis’ 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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