SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's anti-rebel fighters said Saturday they took over the capital of southern Shabwah province, as officials close to the Iran-allied rebels confirmed they withdrew after coming under attack.
Groups fighting the rebels known as Houthis are consolidating their control over the province after taking the capital, Ataq, anti-rebel security officials said. The Saudi-led coalition also fighting the Houthis has been sending heavy ground weaponry, including tanks and armored vehicles, to anti-rebel forces at a Shabwah sea port the past four days, the security officials said.
Security officials close to the Houthis said the withdrawal was a tactical move, without elaborating.
Witnesses in Ataq said they heard explosions early Saturday as anti-Houthi forces began to claim the town. Government buildings were looted after the Houthi withdrawal, witnesses said.
Jubilant crowds welcomed the anti-Houthi forces in Ataq, firing weapons into the air, resident Hisham Nasser said.
At least 200 Saudi-trained Yemeni troops in full military gear joined the anti-rebel forces Saturday in Ataq, coming into Yemen by land through the al-Wadia border crossing, according to security officials.
The Yemen conflict escalated in March when a Saudi-led, American-supported coalition began launching airstrikes against the Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies — troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh — who control the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen. They are pitted against southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants and loyalists of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Clashes also continued in Taiz, Yemen's third-largest city, where anti-Houthi security officials said they took over a house belonging to Saleh and other government buildings.
All officials spoke under condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.