A fighter jet bombed Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's palace in the southern city of Aden on Thursday, security sources said, as smoke was seen rising from the hill-top compound.
A presidency source told AFP that Hadi was evacuated to a secure area. The presidency later said the operation was an “attempted coup” against the internationally recognized president.
The aircraft dropped a bomb or fired a missile at the compound in al-Maasheeq district of the southern port city, where Hadi is based, the Yemeni official said, in a sharp escalation of Yemen's months-long armed turmoil.
Anti-aircraft guns stationed near the palace returned fire on the plane and forced it to retreat, the sources said.
A Yemeni security source said the situation at the presidential palace “was under control and there was nothing to be worried about.”
The unidentified warplane attacked the presidential palace following heavy clashes at Aden’s international airport between forces loyal to President Hadi and a renegade commander who backs the Shiite Houthi rebels.
The clashes forced the closure of the airport in Aden, where the conflict-ridden country's leader fled after the Houthis seized the Sanaa.
At least six people were killed and 20 wounded in the violence.
Special forces led by renegade General Abdel Hafez al-Saqqaf, met with heavy resistance from fighters with the Popular Committees, a local paramilitary group that backs Hadi.
Several hundred soldiers backing Hadi -- supported by tanks and armored vehicles -- were also dispatched as reinforcements to the airport.
Three members of the special forces were killed and two from the Popular Committees, sources said. Another special forces member was killed in separate fighting in central Aden.
The Hadi loyalists regained control of the airport early Thursday after several hours of fighting, a military source told AFP.
Al Arabiya News Channel cited sources as saying that General al-Saqqaf later handed himself over to the defense minister and that he was moved outside of Aden.
Yemen, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, has been gripped by unrest since ex-strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in early 2012 after a year-long popular uprising against his rule.
Saleh -- along with Iran -- has been accused of backing the Huthis, who took control of Sanaa in September and earlier this year seized key government buildings in the capital.
Hadi resigned after the rebels seized his palace and named a “presidential council” to rule the country and assume the powers of the presidency.
Hadi was placed under house arrest in Sanaa but later resurfaced in Aden and retracted his resignation, despite being increasingly isolated in his southern Yemen power base.
Washington fears that the ongoing political instability will help Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered the jihadist network's most dangerous branch, to flourish.
[With AFP and Reuters]