Two killed as Yemen rebels tighten grip on capital

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Two Yemeni rebels were killed Saturday in clashes with troops loyal to President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi in the capital which was largely overran last week by the Shiite insurgents.

Fierce battles erupted overnight Friday near the presidential complex in southern Sanaa after Huthi rebels attacked the nearby residence of the head of the national security apparatus, witnesses said.

The attack, the second of its kind since last week, took place a day after Hadi urged the northern rebels to pull out of the capital, accusing them of pillaging houses, military bases and government institutions.

The Huthi rebels, who had besieged Sanaa for a month, seized key state installations Sunday without any resistance, after clashes on the city's outskirts with Islamists from the Sunni Islah party and tribes killed more than 270 people.

Rebel sources said two of their fighters were killed in the gunfight that lasted around three hours, while 15 others were wounded, after presidential guard forces intervened.

A number of rebels were also captured by the presidential force, the same sources said.

Tension remains high in the district, where Huthi rebels and presidential guards were heavily deployed.

Rebels have a strong presence in the northern part of the capital, home to most ministries that were overran.

But they are rarely present in southern Sanaa, where the presidential complex is said to be protected by four brigades deployed around the palace and in nearby hills.

The lightening takeover of Sanaa by the rebels who faced no resistance from government forces remains perplexing, observers say, as Interior Minister Abdo al-Tarib urged forces not to confront the rebels as they swept across the capital.

Sources close to the presidency spoke of a role for ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh in turning army and security chiefs against Hadi.

Saleh, who stepped down in February 2012 following nationwide protests, is accused of collaborating with the rebels by using his clout among army chiefs, the sources have said.

Military sources said the rebels aim to smoothly bring under their control army bases in Sanaa and other regions, by securing the cooperation of top officers.

Hadi has so far failed to name a new prime minister as stipulated by an agreement to end the fighting, which was mediated by U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar and signed hours after the rebel takeover Sunday.

Yemeni authorities have repeatedly accused Iran of backing the rebels, who also appear influenced by Lebanon's powerful Shiite militia Hezbollah, which is supported by Tehran.

Sunday's deal is aimed at putting the troubled transition since Saleh's ouster back on track in impoverished Yemen, which borders oil kingpin Saudi Arabia and is a key U.S. ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda.

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