Yemen government forces have thwarted a 'massive' Houthi attack west of Marib city and reinforced their positions as they defend their last northern stronghold, two military commanders and an official said Tuesday.
But they said the Iran-backed insurgents had advanced in four areas of the Mashjah front, another key battlefield in their battle to seize the oil-rich region from Saudi-led coalition-backed government forces.
Fierce fighting on multiple frontlines around the strategic city has left at least 67 dead over the past 24 hours, including some 27 loyalist personnel, the three sources said.
According to one of the commanders taking part in the defence of Marib, the government forces 'succeeded in repelling a massive attack' at Al-Tala'a Al-Hamra, about 18 kilometres (11 miles) west of the city.
'Losing it would enable (the rebels) to advance towards hills and sites close to Marib, and the road would be clear towards the western entrance to the city,' the source added.
The second commander confirmed the details. Al-Tala'a Al-Hamra is located near the main highway connecting Marib with the rebel-controlled capital Sanaa.
On Sunday, military sources told AFP that the rebels had taken full control of the Kassara battlefield to the northwest, putting them within six kilometres (four miles) of the city centre, as well as progressing on western frontlines despite Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.
The Yemeni government's Information Minister Moammar al-Eryani disputed the version related by the loyalist officials on the ground, and denied that the Houthis had taken Kassara.
Multiple government sources have told AFP that the next two weeks will decide the fate of the offensive which erupted in early February, saying that some 2,000 of their soldiers have been killed so far, along with thousands more Houthi fighters.
The rebels rarely disclose their own losses.
The three sources said that government forces are building defences on the outskirts of Marib, digging trenches and piling up earth mounds in anticipation of any military breakthrough by the rebels.
In a series of meetings with representatives of Yemeni civil society, women, political parties and journalists, the UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said the attack on Marib had to stop.
In the talks in Egypt which concluded Monday he warned of the dire humanitarian consequences of the offensive, and said it jeopardised the peace process.
The government estimates that two million displaced people have made their way to Marib, seeking safety from a devastating war now in its seventh year.
The US administration of President Joe Biden is mounting a renewed push to end the conflict, warning that the suffering will only end when a political solution is found.