Yemen's defence minister has arrived at his house outside the southern port city of Aden after fleeing the Houthi-held capital Sanaa, security officials say.

Major-General Mahmoud al-Subaihi was the chief guest at a meeting hosted by Ahmed Abdullah al-Majeedi, the governor of Lahj province, on Sunday afternoon.

The meeting was attended by dozens of influential Yemeni officials and high-ranking social dignitaries.

Security officials said Subaihi left Sanaa on Saturday and drove all night to reach his house in the village of Ras al-Ara in the coastal area of al-Madhariba outside Aden.

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In Sanaa, Shia Houthi fighters who have been in control of since September stormed Subaihi's home after hearing the news of his flight but found only several guards there.

He had been previously placed under house arrest by the Houthis who took over the government in a coup on February 6.

Subaihi's escape comes as al-Qaeda and Houthi fighters engaged in an intense firefight, killing at least 12 people on Sunday in the central province of Bayda.

A separate encounter between pro and anti-Houthi tribes also killed five other people, the Associated Press news agency quoted security and tribal officials as saying.  

Meanwhile, at least seven other Houthi fighters were killed when local tribesmen attacked their checkpoint in Qifa, in the city of Radaa. 

Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, recognised as Yemen's president by regional powers, has set up his government in Aden.

Hadi, who also fled to the southern port city two weeks ago after escaping from a Houthi house arrest, considers Aden  to be Yemen's capital, a top aide said.

Hadi traversed a tunnel linking his house to the nearby house of one of his sons, and then travelled to Aden using back roads.

"Aden became the capital of Yemen as soon as the Houthis occupied Sanaa," the aide quoted Hadi as saying in reference to their takeover of the capital several months ago.

The remarks about Aden reflect Hadi's determination to hold out against Houthi efforts to extend their influence, but are purely symbolic because moving the capital requires a change to the constitution.

Aden, Yemen's second largest city, was capital of a once independent South Yemen before unification in 1990, when Sanaa became the unified country's capital.

Several Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have already moved their embassies to Aden after an exodus of foreign diplomats from Sanaa in February over security concerns.

In Sanaa, the Houthis named a "presidential council" after Hadi and Khalid Bahah, Yemen's prime minister, submitted their resignations in January in protest at what critics branded a coup.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies