Clashes at capital Sanaa airport between Yemeni police and Shia Houthi fighters have left three dead, in a rare confrontation since the rebels overran the capital in September.

Two policemen and a civilian were killed in the clashes that erupted overnight between police and armed men based at the airport, since the northern rebels seized the capital unopposed.

The firefight caused a brief interruption of air traffic, a security official said on Tuesday.

It followed a strike by airport staff who demanded the withdrawal of the fighters from the airport.

Complaints have recently been made by Western embassies that rebels stationed at the airport have opened their diplomatic mail, violating international conventions, sources at Yemen's Foreign Ministry said.

The armed group have also been insisting on boarding planes for inspection, aviation sources said, causing several airlines to delay resuming flights to Sanaa that were suspended on September 19 for security reasons.

The rebels remain the main force in Sanaa.

New cabinet rejected

A UN-brokered agreement reached in September stipulated that the Houthi rebels, also known as Ansarullah, would withdraw from Sanaa once a new prime minister is named.

But they have rejected a new cabinet formed on Friday, insisting on a reshuffle that would keep out officials that they accuse of corruption.

Since they overran the capital, the Houthis have expanded their control to coastal areas and regions south of the capital, where their fighters have met fierce resistance from various Sunni tribes and al-Qaeda.

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On Monday, at least 30 people were killed in the southern province of Bayda following clashes between Houthis and tribesmen, who were reportedly backed by al-Qaeda.  

Khaled Bahhah was sworn into office as prime minister along with his cabinet on Sunday, but the Houthis have refused to withdraw from the city, highlighting the challenge he faces in uniting the fractious country.

The Houthis have criticised the new government as "disappointing", saying that some new cabinet names did not comply with agreements.

The statement also rejected a UN Security Council decision that ordered sanctions on former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and two members of the Houthi group, saying the resolution was a blatant intervention in Yemen's internal affairs.

The turmoil has raised fears the Arabian Peninsula nation, which neighbours oil-rich Saudi Arabia and lies on the key shipping route from the Suez Canal to the Gulf, may become a failed state.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies