Yemenis in embattled city of Marib gear up for Eid

a person wearing a hat: Yemenis gather at a market in Yemen's northeastern city of Marib, on May 5, 2021 as Muslims prepare ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday © STR Yemenis gather at a market in Yemen's northeastern city of Marib, on May 5, 2021 as Muslims prepare ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday

Markets in Yemen's embattled Marib city are bustling with people gearing up for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, despite fighting that has raged nearby between government forces and Huthi rebels.

While shoppers this week crowded the streets of the city to buy clothes, sweets and nuts for the feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, pro-government forces stood guard with rifles in hand.

Since February, loyalists have faced a fierce Huthi campaign to take over the city and its surrounding oil fields, which make up the government's last significant foothold in the north of the war-torn country.

Fighters loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government stand guard at the entrance of Yemen's northeastern city of Marib © STR Fighters loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government stand guard at the entrance of Yemen's northeastern city of Marib

But residents are eager to celebrate the holiday, even in the shadow of the long conflict that has devastated the country and plunged it into what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"The turnout this Eid is just like every other year," Mohammed Ibrahim, a shop owner, told AFP. "Despite what's happening around Marib, thank God, everything is good."

Marib, about 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of the rebel-held capital Sanaa, had witnessed relative stability since the war erupted in 2014 -- becoming a safe haven for hundreds of thousands who fled frontline fighting.

a group of people in a store: While some customers at the Marib market complained of high prices and of the struggles of Yemen's war, many said they found comfort in the city's ability to remain a sanctuary for now © STR While some customers at the Marib market complained of high prices and of the struggles of Yemen's war, many said they found comfort in the city's ability to remain a sanctuary for now

Its loss to the Iran-backed Huthis would be a major blow for Yemen's government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and could unleash a humanitarian disaster for the region's civilians.

Both sides sustained heavy casualties at the peak of the fighting, which went into a lull earlier this month during talks in Oman aimed at securing a ceasefire, only to flare up again in recent days.

- 'Great joy' -

But far from the frontlines, twinkling lights have been strung up around shops and stores in Marib, where families browsed through the many stalls selling products ranging from raisins and candy to sandals and watches.

a group of people standing in front of a store: Marib residents are delighted to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, even in the shadow of the long conflict that has devastated the country and plunged it into what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis © STR Marib residents are delighted to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, even in the shadow of the long conflict that has devastated the country and plunged it into what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis

Customers could be seen haggling with a vendor selling new clothes for the holiday, while others walked around and chatted with absolutely no health measures in place or masks to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

And while some customers complained of price inflation and of the struggles of war, many said they found comfort in the city's ability to remain a sanctuary for now.

"Despite the Huthi missiles and the high prices, there is great joy in the hearts of the citizens of this city because there is security and safety," Hamdi Ahmed, a store owner, told AFP.

The UN has sought to broker a deal between the warring sides, but intense diplomacy has yet to yield results.

"For Yemenis, the battle of Marib has an existential importance -- for their lives, their children, their future," the head of Yemen's office of the presidency, Abdallah al-Alimi, said on Friday.

For Yehya al-Ahmedi, a city resident, it is clear that the people of Marib do not want Huthi rule.

"The Huthis have not learnt the lesson... as they continue to try and enter the city, that the people reject them and the reality rejects them," he told AFP.

"They will continue to kill themselves on the outskirts of the city, and the people here will live in the joyous atmosphere of Eid... as if there is no war."

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Yemenis in embattled city of Marib gear up for Eid