Yemeni Shiite rebels seized government and military buildings in the city of Amran after four days of intense fighting, weakening the central government’s control over the country.
The Houthi fighters took weapons and ammunition from military positions in the city, northwest of the capital Sana’a, the state Saba news agency said, citing the country’s Supreme Security Committee. The government called on Shiite fighters to withdraw, the news service said.
Yemen’s government under President Abdurabu Mansur Hadi has failed to contain the well-armed rebels in the north and is also battling Sunni Muslim militants in the south. The deterioration of security across a country bigger than Spain has raised the prospects of the state’s collapse and is providing a safe haven for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to plan attacks against Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil supplier.
“Amran’s location close to the capital makes it strategic,” Majed al-Mathhaji, an independent political analyst based in Sana’a, said in a phone interview. “Controlling Amran gives the Houthis influence over the political decision making in Sana’a.”
The Houthis, named after the group’s founder Hussein al-Houthi, fought a six-year battle for autonomy after 2004, saying they face discrimination from Yemen’s majority Sunnis. Authorities accuse the rebels of seeking to reinstall the rule of Shiite religious leaders who ran the country before 1962.
Saudi forces were drawn into the conflict in late 2009 after the Houthis seized land inside the kingdom.
Fighting with government forces backed by tribesmen escalated last week as the Houthi rebels pushed for control of Amran, which now positions them to attack the international airport in Sana’a. As the fighting became more intense, 47 soldiers and 70 rebels were killed July 5, Al Jazeera reported.
Houthis have expanded the territory under their control since October as they sought to drive away Sunni Salafis allied to tribesmen north of Sana’a. A cease-fire between government forces and the Shiite rebels agreed to in the first week of June collapsed days later.
With little government control across Yemen’s towns and mountain ranges, al-Qaeda has used the country as a base to plan attacks against Saudi Arabia.
Saudi militants crossed into the kingdom from Yemen this month and killed four soldiers in attacks near the border, Interior Ministry spokesman General Mansour al-Turki said on July 5. Two of the attackers were killed when they carried out a suicide bombing inside an intelligence building in Sharourah in the Saudi province of Najran.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at firstname.lastname@example.org Ben Holland, Caroline Alexander