Twelve people have been killed in clashes between Yemeni forces and Shia rebels on the outskirts of the northern city of Amran, a local official and tribal sources said.
The rebels, known as Houthis or Ansarullah, had travelled to Amran to take part in a demonstration, but shooting erupted on Saturday when they insisted on crossing a checkpoint to the northern entrance to the city with their weapons, an official told the AFP news agency.
Eight rebels were among the dead, as well as two soldiers and two civilians, a local official and tribal sources said.
A senior security official in Sanaa said orders have been given to prevent Houthis from entering Amran, as the army dispatched reinforcements from the 310nd armoured brigade.
The military also set up more checkpoints around the city as rebels attempted to enter from the east and west, local sources said.
Last week, Houthis armed with assault rifles paraded through Amran along with vehicles fitted with rocket launchers, demanding the sacking of what they consider a corrupt government.
The Houthis have fought the central government in Sanaa for years, complaining of marginalisation under former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in 2012 following a year of protests.
Last month, President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and party leaders in Sanaa agreed to transform Yemen into a six-region federation as part of a political transition.
The rebels, who complain that the country would be divided into rich and poor regions under the plan, have been trying to enlarge their zone of influence by pushing out from their mountain strongholds in the far north to areas closer to the capital.
In early February, they seized areas of Amran province in fighting with local tribes that left more than 150 people dead. Military sources said last week the rebel objective was to seize Amran city and, from there, lay siege to the capital.