At least 50 people have been killed in fighting between Yemeni troops and Houthi rebels north of Sanaa, as supporters of the Shia group continue to rally against the government in the capital.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Sanaa, said the deadly clashes have been ongoing in the province of Jawf over the last few days, in what is seen as a crucial fight for both groups.
At least 20 of those killed were from the army and armed pro-government groups, while 30 were from the Houthi side.
Our correspondent said: “The fighting has intensified over the last few hours…. Both sides are trying to consolidate their presence near the capital Sanaa. Both are fighting to control a strategic junction on the main road that link the capital to Jawf and Maarib provinces.”
“There was a truce earlier but suddenly it broke and the fighting resumed…There is loads of anxiety and a very charged political atmosphere in Sanaa.”
Analysts said the rebels are trying to establish themselves as the dominant political force in the northern highlands, where Shia are the majority community.
Hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Sanaa on Friday in support of the beleaguered government, as a large number of its opponents held a counter-demonstration vowing to intensify their protests until the cabinet resigns.
The rebels called for further action against the government, who they accuse of corruption and whose resignation they have been demanding.
Protesters called for an escalation of the situation, and a senior member of the Houthis politburo called for “civil disobedience” and urged supporters to join in new protests on Sunday and Monday to keep up the pressure on the government.
As protesters step up pressure for the government to resign, Ahelbarra said that the Houthis and their supporters have threatened to block roads leading to the capital, and move closer to the airport.
“They are waging some sort of psychological warfare. It’s quite tense tense here,” he said.
Yemen has been locked in a protracted transition since long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced from power in February 2012 after a deadly 11-month uprising.