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Houthi rebels seize airport in south Yemen

Rebels reported to be pushing south towards city of Aden where president is holed up after being forced out of power.

Yemen’s Shia rebels have seized parts of the southern city of Taiz and its airport and are pushing to seize more territory across the country, Al Jazeera correspondents reported.

Correspondents said the rebels, known as Houthis, were pushing south towards the city of Aden, where President Abd-Rabbu Mansout Hadi has set up a rival administration after the Houthis forced him out of power.

The rebels seized the airport in Taiz, the third-largest city, on Sunday after clashes with forces loyal to Hadi, reported the AFP news agency, citing security sources.

Tens of tanks and armoured personnel carriers carrying Houthi fighters had crossed into al-Dhalie and Aden governorates, Al Jazeera correspondents said.

A Yemeni political activist, Ahmed al-Wafi, said the Houthis had taken full control of Taiz military airbase and had deployed fighters to man checkpoints at the city’s entry points and streets.

Al-Masirah TV, a pro-Houthi channel, announced that Houthi leader Abdel-Malik al-Houthi would deliver a speech in the evening. No exact time was given.

The airport was seized amid demonstrations against both the Houthis and supporters of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president backing the Houthis.

Yemeni anti-aircraft guns on Sunday opened fire at an unidentified plane flying over Hadi’s compound in Aden and appeared to force it away, witnesses cited by the Reuters news agency said.

It was the third incident of its kind in the past four days, in which unidentified aircraft have flown over the compound, where Hadi is based, on one occasion dropping bombs without causing any casualties.

The Houthis, who swept into Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September, now control nine of the country’s 21 provinces.

The turmoil comes as Yemen battles al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the target of the US drone programme, and faces a purported affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which claimed responsibility for a series of suicide bombings on mosques, killing at least 137 people on Friday.

‘Drums of war’;

A spokesperson for the Yemen embassy in Washington said the country was teetering on the brink of full-scale war.

“I hate to say this, but I’m hearing the loud and clear beating of the drums of war in Yemen,” Mohammed al-Basha wrote on Twitter.

On Saturday, Hadi gave his first televised address since fleeing Sanaa, striking a defiant tone. He described the rebels’ rule as “a coup against constitutional legitimacy”.

He also pledged to raise the Yemeni flag over the Maran mountains, a stronghold for the Houthis, members of the Shia Zaydi sect that represents nearly 30 percent of Yemen’s population.

Hadi also said regional Shia power Iran supported the Houthis, something critics also allege and the rebels deny.

Sunni Gulf countries have lined up to support Hadi and have moved their embassies to Aden to back him against the Shia rebels.

Meanwhile, the United States said it had evacuated all its staff from Yemen as Hadi appealed for “urgent intervention” by the UN Security Council.

“Due to the deteriorating security situation in Yemen, the US government has temporarily relocated its remaining personnel out of Yemen,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement. ( Al Jazeera and agencies)

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