A father and daughter’s grave marks the coast of Yemen’s war. Maria, Yemen – A tombstone stands out among the growing number of war graves in the Yemeni city of Marib cemetery. Two “martyrs” are listed here: a father and a young daughter.
Taher Farag and his 2-year-old Liyan are inseparable. So earlier this month, when Farag went to the market to buy food for his wife to make lunch, he took Liyan with him.
On the way, he stopped at a gas station in the Rawdah neighborhood of Marib to refill the tank. While waiting in line, a ballistic missile launched by Yemen’s Houthis rebels hit the station and a drone loaded with explosives detonated. The gas station rose like a ball of fire, lining up to incinerate vehicles.
At least 21 people, including Farag and his daughter, were killed in the June 5 attack, said Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It was the single most lethal attack in an offensive launched in months by Houthi rebels trying to capture the last stronghold of the northern Yemeni government, Maria.
Rebels have been battling since February, and progress has been slow as Saudi-backed government fighters dig into the city to defend the city and Saudi airstrikes inflict casualties on rebels.
Houthis fired ballistic missiles, sent drones to Marib, and often attacked civilian areas and camps for refugees. More than 120 civilians, including 15 children, have been killed and more than 220 injured in the past six months, according to the government.
Farag’s wife, Gamila Saleh Ali, heard an explosion in her house. She did not feel that her husband and her daughter were in danger. Marib has a lot of explosions. Still, she called for safety. She had no answer. She kept calling me whenever there was no answer.
Then her husband’s mother, who lives in the same building, screamed at her. She went out and found her family crying. “I realized that Lyan and her father were martyred,” the 27-year-old said. “I went back to my room and prayed to God.”
“She was a fun-loving kid,” she told Liyan, holding her 10-month-old son. “Her dad loved her. He used to say, “Liyan is mine, and the boy is yours.” He was so attached to her and she was so attached to her father.”
The 32-year-old Farah once worked as a farmer in his hometown of Kharif in northwestern Yemen and fled with his family in 2014 after Iranian-backed Houthis took over most of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.
Like many who were driven out of their homes, he settled in Marib, a haven outside the territory of Houthi. He was able to find a job driving a taxi. Official statistics show that the area currently houses about 2.2 million displaced people, many of whom are crowded into camps outside the city.
They were embroiled on one of the last active fronts in a war that continued for nearly seven years between governments controlling much of the South and backed by a Saudi-led coalition. Although this war has been largely stable for many years, it continues to wreak havoc, killing more than 130,000 people and creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
On the same day as the gas station strike, the Omani delegation landed in Sana’a to speak with rebel leaders, including the group’s religious and military leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi. Houthis are under increasing pressure to pave the way for peace talks by stopping Marib’s attacks and agreeing to a nationwide ceasefire.
In the meantime, the inhabitants of Marib withstand frequent missile and drone attacks.
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, chairman of the rebel Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said the missile attack targeted a military position and called for an independent investigation. He provided no evidence. The gas station is located hundreds of meters (yards) from the perimeter fence of the military camp.
“The storm was strong and it was too strong. It made me fly away,” said an employee at the station, who is being treated at Marib’s Central Hospital. His right leg was broken and many parts of his body were burned. He spoke on unnamed terms for the safety of the family living on the territory owned by Houthi.
“We found debris and burnt bodies. There were screams,” said Eissa Mohammed, who lives across the street. The bodies of Farag and Lyan were found hugging each other in his cab that had been burned down, officials and family said. “So we buried them in the same grave,” said Farag’s younger brother, Ayed.