Houthi rebels refuse to pull out of central province

On Saturday, the rebel group, widely suspected to have links with Iran, took over the house of a prominent Islamist politician

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Houthi rebels in Yemen refused on Sunday to sign an deal that calls for their withdrawal from central Ibb Province, converting a university there into a military barracks, Al Arabiya News Channel’s correspondent reported.

Ibb University said it had suspended classes as a result of deployment of Houthi fighters.

The Houthis also seized the town of Yarim in Ibb Province, about 170 km south of Sanaa, early on Sunday. The town has a population of more than 100,000 and lies along the main road to Yemen's southern provinces.

On Saturday, the rebel group, widely suspected to have links with Iran, took over the house of a prominent Islamist politician in Yarim, setting off clashes that left 12 people dead.

The politician, who comes from the powerful Islah Party, or Reform Party, was not home at the time. On Sunday, according to the officials, the Houthi rebels blew up the house, AP reported.

The development in Ibb Province Sunday came after attacks led by Al-Qaeda forced the Shiite rebels to withdraw from Ridaa, al-Bayda Province.

The Houthi had made their way into Ridaa Saturday without any noticeable resistance. Al-Qaeda, which regards al-Bayda as one of its principle strongholds in Yemen, then launched a range attacks on the Shiite fighters, forcing the withdrawal.

In Sanaa, the rebels stormed on Sunday the headquarters of the capital’s local government, the Associated Press reported.

According to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, the rebels chased out the governor, Abdul-Ghani Jameel, who they accuse of corruption.

Sunday’s developments reflected the growing strength of the Houthis, who overran Sanaa last month and captured a key Red Sea port city last week along with a province south of the capital.

Yemen has been beset for years by an al-Qaeda-led insurgency that has staged dozens of suicide attacks against military and security personnel. It also has endured crushing poverty that has bred resentment that took root in a secessionist movement in its southern region.

The advances by the anti-American Shiite rebels take advantage of the disarray in Yemen’s army and security forces. Yemen is one of the most active battlegrounds in the U.S. campaign against Al-Qaeda's leaders, hideouts and camps, and American drones operate openly there with permission from the Yemeni government.

The country's proximity to the vast oilfields of Washington's Gulf Arab allies also adds to Yemen's strategic value.

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