* Associated Press
Among the growing number of graves of war dead in the cemetery of the Yemeni city of Ma’rib, a witness stands out for one grave, in which there are two “martyrs”, a father and his young daughter.
Their family says that two-year-old Taher Farag and Lian are inseparable and he takes her with him every time they go out. Earlier this month, when Faraj went to the market to buy vegetables for his wife to prepare lunch, he took his daughter Lian with him.
While on the road, he stopped at a gas station in the Al-Rawdah neighborhood in Marib to fill up his car. At that time, while they were waiting in line at a station, a ballistic missile fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen hit the station, followed by the explosion of a drone loaded with explosives. The gas station erupted like a ball of flames, burning vehicles in line.
OHCHR spokeswoman Liz Throssell said at least 21 people were killed, including Faraj and his daughter, in the June 5 attack.
It was the deadliest attack in months of attacks by Houthi rebels in an attempt to seize Marib, the last stronghold of the Yemeni government in the north of the country. Since February, the rebels have launched their offensive, making only slow progress as Saudi-backed government fighters approached to defend the city. The Saudi air strikes caused casualties among the rebels.
The Houthis fired ballistic missiles and drones on Marib as well, often hitting civilian areas and camps for the displaced, killing more than 120 civilians, including 15 children, and wounding more than 220 in the past six months, according to the government.
At home, Farag’s wife, Jamila Saleh Ali, heard the explosion. She did not think that her husband and daughter were in danger, as there are a lot of explosions happening in Marib. However, I called his phone to check on him, but she did not find an answer, so I called again and again, and every time he did not answer her.
Then came the cry of her mother-in-law, who lives in the same building. She went out and found her family crying. “I realized that Layan and her father were martyred (…) I went back to my room and prayed to God,” the 27-year-old said.
The mother said of Lian: “She was a fun-loving child and her father loved her very much (…) He was very attached to her and she was very attached to her father.”
The 32-year-old was a farmer in his hometown of “Kharif” in Amran Governorate (northwest of Yemen), before he fled with his family after the Iran-backed Houthis overran most of the north of the country in 2014, including the capital, Sanaa.
Like many displaced from their homes, Faraj settled in Marib, an apparently safe haven outside Houthi control. He was able to find a job as a taxi driver.
Official statistics indicate that the area is now home to about 2.2 million displaced people, many of them in camps on the outskirts of the city. They find themselves stuck on one of the last active fronts in a nearly seven-year war between the Houthis and the government, which controls much of the south and is backed by a Saudi-led coalition.
On the same day of the bloody attack on the gas station, an Omani delegation arrived in Sanaa for talks with Houthi rebel leaders, including the group’s religious and military leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi.
Pressure is mounting on the Houthis to halt their offensive in Marib and agree to a nationwide ceasefire, paving the way for peace talks.
Meanwhile, the residents of Marib suffer from frequent explosions of Houthi missiles and drones.
The gas station is located several hundred meters from the fence surrounding an army camp.
“The explosion was very strong (…) The explosion hit me and I flew away,” said one of the station workers, who was being treated at the main Ma’rib hospital. His right leg was broken and a large part of his body was burned.
“We found shrapnel and the remains of burnt bodies (…) and we heard loud cries,” says Issa Muhammad, who lives across the street.
Officials and a family said that the bodies of Faraj and Lian, charred beyond recognition, were found in a charred taxi, embracing each other.
“So we buried them in the same grave,” said Faraj’s younger brother, Ayed.