Yemeni soldiers gather at a military post in al-Mahfad in
the southern Yemeni province. Photo by Reuters
Shi'ite Muslim fighters have captured one of the main
cities in northern Yemen, a local official and residents said,
after fighting that has killed at least 200 people and puts the
Shi'ites on the outskirts of the capital.
The fall of Omran represents a major blow to the government
of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has been trying to
stabilise the U.S.-allied country following nearly three
years of turmoil that forced his predecessor to step down.
The Shi'ite Houthis, named after the tribe of their leader,
said their fight was against rivals loyal to the Islamist
Islah party, and they had no intention of attacking the
capital Sanaa, just south of Omran.
Local officials and witnesses said the Houthis seized Omran
after battles in which about 100 were killed and 150 wounded
on Tuesday alone, following more than 100 deaths in previous
days. Fighting continued around an army camp in the city,
"Justice and right have prevailed, the underprivileged sons
of Omran have prevailed," said Mohammed Abdul-Salam, official
spokesman for the Houthis.
Medics said dozens of bodies lay in streets strewn with the
rubble of destroyed homes.
The conflict pitted the Shi'ite tribal militias against Sunni
Muslim tribesmen allied with government troops.
Omran has long been a stronghold of Bani al-Ahmar, one of the
most powerful tribes in Yemen. Prominent figures from the
mainly Sunni Muslim clan are top leaders in Islah or hold
senior positions in the armed forces or the government.
Hadi recently warned that Omran was a red line and he would
not tolerate it falling into Houthi hands.
The current round of fighting began last week after a June 23
The Houthis blamed the end of the truce across north Yemen on
an advance in al-Jouf Province northeast of Sanaa by army
units loyal to the Islah party, which has links to the Sunni
The government said the advance on the town of al-Safra had
been prompted by the failure of Houthi fighters to vacate
positions in compliance with the terms of the ceasefire.
On Saturday Yemen's air force bombed Houthi positions in
Omran in fighting that killed 34 soldiers and 70 Houthis,
medical sources in the city said on Sunday.
Abdul-Salam said his group had dealt "painful blows" to what
he called the "takfiri" militias in Omran - a phrase used to
refer to hardline Sunni Islamists who view Shi'ites as
"The battle was swift and beyond their expectations, and
victory, with God's grace, was massive," he said in a
He said that the Houthis would work with the Omran governor
to ensure that all city residents lived in peace and
Houthis demand more rights for Shi'ites in the majority Sunni
Some Sunnis fear the Houthis want to revive the Shi'ite Zaydi
Imamate, the 1,000-year-long rule of Yemen in which power was
passed through leaders claiming descent from the Prophet
Mohammed. The imamate ended in a 1962 military coup.
"Goodbye Omran," said Kamal al-Ba'adani, a senior official at
the ministry of local government in Sanaa. "After 50 years of
republican rule, you have gone back to the imamate," he