Jul 8, 3:34 PM EDT

Yemen Shiite rebels capture northern city


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Yemen Shiite rebels capture northern city

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SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Fighters from a Yemeni Shiite rebel group took control Tuesday of a northwestern city where they have been fighting for weeks with conservative Sunnis from one of the country's largest tribes, government and military officials said.

The officials said the rebels seized control of the city of Amran, about 45 miles north of the capital Sanaa, deploying fighters and vehicles at government offices, banks and shops.

Witnesses said fighters from the Hashid tribal confederation, one of Yemen's largest, allied with the country's Muslim Brotherhood group, the Islah party, were nowhere to be seen in the city. In weeks of fighting, the tribesmen were backed by a local army unit. But the officials and witnesses said the rebel fighters did not storm or take over the military camps in the city.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The Shiite Hawthis were backed by other local tribes in Amran province, including disgruntled members of the Hashid and members of another large tribal confederation, Bakil.

A spokesman for the Hawthi rebels, Mohammed Abdul-Salam, said his group had no intention of replacing the government in the city, adding that it is only fighting what he called an extremist group.

Fighting in Amran that raged for weeks left scores killed and forced families to flee the area. The Yemeni Red Crescent estimated that 15,000 families had fled the fighting, On Tuesday, witnesses said bodies littered the ground following days of fighting over control of the city. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal because of the fragile situation in the city. There has been so far no official statement of the number of casualties.

Tribal leader Khaled al-Haidari, a member of the Bakil tribal confederation which fought alongside the rebels, said the city of Amran was celebrating the defeat of the Hashid fighters.

"Amran will celebrate today the fall of the corrupt tyrants," he said, adding that for years the province's dominant Hashid clan has been plundering its resources.

There was no immediate comment from the Hashid or the central government in Sanaa.

The Hawthis waged a six-year insurgency in the north against ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, which officially ended in 2010. But fighting has often reignited, and attempts at lasting cease-fires have repeatedly failed.

Yemen, the poorest Arab nation, is facing multiple challenges. In addition to the presence of the world's most dangerous al-Qaida offshoot in several cities the country, it faces a secessionist movement in the south and the Hawthi rebellion in the north.

Since the ouster of Saleh, President Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi has worked on restructuring the military and security forces to ensure full loyalty to the new leadership. He has however also complained of what he describes as Saleh's attempts to hinder reforms.

On Tuesday, Hadi traveled to Saudi Arabia in a previously unannounced visit. The situation in Amran is likely to be part of his talks with Saudi officials.

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