Shia rebels seized a city in central Yemen Wednesday seen as a strategic link to the south, further widening their territory following deadly clashes with tribesmen, security and tribal sources said.
Yemen has been sliding into turmoil since an Arab Spring-inspired uprising ousted strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012, with armed rivals including the Huthi Shia rebels and Al-Qaeda battling each other.
The Huthis took control of Radmah -- located on a road linking the capital Sanaa with the main southern city Aden -- on Wednesday after 24 hours of fighting against local tribesmen, a security official told AFP.
Radmah is part of Ibb province, where the rebels have been locked in deadly battles with mostly-Sunni tribesmen this month.
The Huthis easily overran the capital in September before moving on to the Red Sea port city of Hudeida as well as Shia-populated Dhamar and the provincial capital of Ibb.
The rebels, from the mountainous north, are seeking greater political clout in impoverished Yemen, which is located next to oil kingpin Saudi Arabia and key shipping routes in the Gulf of Aden.
Yemen is a key US ally that has allowed Washington to conduct drone strikes against Al-Qaeda on its territory, and the fighting has raised fears of it collapsing into a failed state.
Radmah is a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Al-Islah (Reform) Party, whose supporters have been resisting the Huthi advance.
Tribal sources said that nine fighters from both sides were killed during the battle for the city.
In the provincial capital Ibb further southwest, dozens of armed rebels stormed the main security headquarters overnight and members of the security forces fled, an official said.
With the fall of Ramdah, the Huthis now control Ibb province with the exception of Udain, which is in the hands of Al-Qaeda and allied tribesmen, a local official said.
In Rada, in the neighbouring province of Baida, 12 Huthis were killed in an attack by Al-Qaeda suspects, tribal sources said.
The Huthis, who had long been concentrated in their northern highlands where Shias form a majority, have been facing fierce resistance from local tribesmen as well as Al-Qaeda.
The rebels appear undeterred by a weekend speech by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi who urged the Huthis to "immediately pull out" of all seized areas including the capital.
But political sources in Sanaa told AFP that tribes allied to the Shias rebels were expected to meet in Sanaa on Friday following calls by rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi to discuss ways to return the country to normality.