At least 10 people have been killed in fighting between Houthi tribesmen and al-Qaeda linked fighters in central Yemen, witnesses have said, part of a growing struggle over territory and influence between the two sides.
Witnesses said a convoy of Houthi fighters trying on Thursday to reach the town of Radda in al-Bayda province, 130km south east of Sanaa, was blocked by fighters from Ansar al-Sharia, the local arm of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Pensinsula (AQAP).
“There are heavy clashes going on there, with various weapons, including RPGs,” one resident said, estimating that at least 10 Houthi fighters were killed.
The fighting comes after clashes between Houthis and Ansar al-Sharia in Radda on Tuesday in which at least 12 people were killed.
‘Strong devours the weak’
Another convoy of several cars carrying Houthis was later seen on the outskirts of Taaz, a city 50km south of Ibb, which the Houthis seized on Thursday.
Major General Mahmoud al-Subehi, commander of the fourth military region, pledged on Friday to secure Taaz and preventing the entry of the fighters.
Subaihi said that Taaz did not need popular committees and armed groups, and that maintaining security is the army’s job.
“No one can enter Taaz by force. By the power of my office under the constitution, my patriotic responsibility and ethical duty is to secure Taaz … it is our duty to provide security to citizens under these circumstances where the strong devours the weak,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Omar al-Saleh, reporting from Sanaa, said that unlike other military units in the country, “this commander [Subaihi] seems to be willing to confront a string of Houthi gains.
“He was very clear in saying that he would not allow Houthi advancement. Fighting in Taaz could have a sectarian aspect to it, making it very dangerous,” he said.
Saleh said there was fighting in the north of Ibb, and that sources said that tribal leaders ordered their fighters to form armed units to confront the Houthi advancement.
AQAP, who view Shias as heretics and Houthis as being under the influence of Iran, last week claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a Houthi gathering in Sanaa that killed at least 47 people.
That attack was seen as a sign of AQAP’s anger at the Houthis’ takeover of Sanaa, a lightning assault last month that saw the group impose itself on the troubled administration of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
In a statement issued on Thursday, AQAP said that its fighters had on the previous day stormed the town Odein, near Ibb, killing three soldiers and holding it for nine hours to prevent the Houthis from taking over.
In the most recent advances outside Sanaa, Houthis took control on Thursday of the small Red Sea port of Medi and al-Dawaymeh island, both near the border with Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this week, they took over the Red Sea port of Hudaydah, the second largest port in the Arabian peninsula nation after Aden, with the apparent agreement of the police, according to local officials.