Yemeni tribesmen fight Houthi rebels in oil province

SANAA (Reuters) - Clashes erupted in central Yemen on Thursday, with local tribesmen saying they were pushing back fighters from the Shi’ite Muslim Houthi clan who were trying to capture an army base in Marib province.

Marib, which is home to a significant portion of Yemen’s oil fields and other energy infrastructure, has been a flashpoint in recent months as the Houthis expanded their influence across the country, taking the capital Sanaa and becoming de facto national powerbrokers.

“The Houthis came with many fighters with the aim of storming the base of the 7th Brigade and tribesmen are fighting them back,” one tribal leader told Reuters.

Half of Yemen’s oil and more than half of its electricity are produced in Marib, which is also where the main gas fields are located. Its chief export pipeline carries around 70,000-110,000 barrels per day of Marib light crude to the Red Sea.

The Houthi rebels on Thursday welcomed proposed concessions by the government on power-sharing but their gunmen still held positions outside the residence of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who remains a virtual prisoner there. [ID:nL6N0V11CC]

Tribal leader Sheikh Hamad bin Waheet said local tribes had agreed with Marib’s governor and the head of the army to protect the province from Houthis or other aggressors. “Armed tribesmen from Bayda province and al-Jawf are also coming and we’ll defend Marib,” he said.

The Houthis want to replace the governor, who they say is too close to Sunni Saudi Arabia and to General Ali Mohsen, a Sunni Islamist-leaning general.

They also want army units to be sent in to protect vital installations there, Houthi official Ali al-Imad told Reuters.

Reporting By Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and David Stamp