Yemen's Houthi rebels have captured a key city linking the capital to the south as they push to control more territory of the country.

The Shia fighters captured the strategic central city of Radmah in Ibb province on Wednesday, a city that links Sanaa with the main southern city of Aden, after prolonged fighting with local tribesmen, the AFP news agency reported.

Tribal sources said that nine fighters from both sides were killed during the battle for the city, known to be a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islah party.

 

With the fall of Radmah, the Houthis now virtually control the whole of Ibb province with the exception of Udain, which is in the hands of al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula (AQAP) and allied Sunni tribesmen.

The Houthis, who had long been concentrated in their northern highlands where Shias form a majority, have been facing fierce resistance from local tribesmen as well as AQAP.

After easily overrunning the capital in September, the Houthis moved on to the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah as well as Shia-populated Dhamar and entered Ibb, the provincial capital.

The rebels appear unmoved by a call from President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to "immediately pull out" of all seized areas, including the capital.

The Houthis, who have been accused by authorities of having links with Iran, hail from the northern highlands and champion the interests of the Zaidi community, who make up a fifth of Yemen's 25 million population.

Also on Wednesday, Yemen's political parties decided to form a new government of technocrats, a key demand of the Houthis.

Yemen has been locked in a protracted transition since long-time strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced from power in February 2012 after a deadly 11-month uprising.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies