SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's Shiite rebels on Friday overran an al-Qaida stronghold after days of battling the militants for the city in the country's central heartland, a Yemeni official and a tribal leader said.
The capture of the city of Radda, in the in the province of Bayda, came with the help of a Yemeni army commander, the two said.
The Shiite rebels known as Houthis have been fighting both al-Qaida militants and Sunni tribes over the past few days. The rebels, who in September gained control of the capital, Sanaa, earlier this week overran a key Yemeni port city on the Red Sea.
The Houthis entered Radda on Friday, after the commander of Yemeni army's Battalion 193 gave up his troops positions, a security official and a tribal leader from the city said.
The action, mirrored similar instances in the past when units in Yemen's army suspected of links with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a Houthi ally, facilitated stunning rebel advances from their home base in northern Saada province.
The army commander who helped the Houthis in Radda is said to be a loyalist of the ousted Saleh, who was deposed after the country's 2011 uprising. Saleh and his party have joined ranks with the Houthis against a common enemy — the Islamist Islah party and its allied tribe of Al-Ahmar, traditional power brokers in Yemen.
Also Friday, fierce clashes erupted in Ibb province, nearly 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Sanaa between the Houthis and tribesmen allied with the Islah party, leaving eight dead, according to other security officials in the province.
The Houthis were also pushing into two other provinces. The governor of Ibb, Yahia al-Iryani, urged the rebels to leave his province. And in the adjacent province of Taiz, Major General Mahmoud al-Subehi, the military commander of the region, said he has enforced his positions and will defend the province from the Houthis.
All officials and the tribal leader spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The Houthi offensive has pushed Yemen into even deeper turmoil. Apart from the rampant al-Qaida insurgency and the Shiite rebel blitz, the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country has also endured crushing poverty that has bred resentment — and outright rebellion — that took root in a secessionist movement in its once-independent southern region.
President Barack Obama called the president of Yemen, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, on Friday to reaffirm the United States' support for his government as it works through political transition and economic reform in the face of the violence. Obama urged Hadi to pursue his efforts to draft a new constitution, launch voter registration and hold elections, and congratulated him on the nomination of a new prime minister.
The White House said the two presidents agreed that all parties should unite to de-escalate the conflict and form a representative government, and they reiterated their commitment to counter al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.