SANAA (Reuters) - At least 10 people were killed in fighting between Houthi tribesmen and militants linked to al Qaeda in central Yemen on Thursday, witnesses said, part of a growing struggle over territory and influence between the two enemy sides.
The Shi’ite Muslim Houthis established themselves as Yemen’s new powerbrokers last month, capturing Sanaa on Sept. 21 to little resistance from residents or from the weak administration of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Their ascendance has angered al Qaeda, which views Shi’ites as heretics and Houthis as pawns of Iran. Last week, the Yemeni group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed a suicide bombing on a Houthi gathering that killed at least 47 people.
Houthi fighters have been making advances outside of Sanaa in recent days, taking over cities and towns with the apparent agreement of the authorities there, but clashing with some al Qaeda linked militants in central Yemen.
On Thursday, witnesses said a convoy of Houthi fighters trying to reach the town of Radda in al-Bayda province, 130 km south east of Sanaa, was blocked by fighters from Ansar al-Sharia, the local arm of AQAP.
“There are heavy clashes going on there, with various weapons, including RPGs,” one resident said. He estimated that at least 10 Houthi fighters were killed.
The fighting comes after clashes between Houthis and Ansar al Sharia in Radda on Tuesday in which at least 12 people were killed.
Another convoy of several cars carrying Houthis was later seen on the outskirts of Taiz, a city 50 km south of Ibb.
Al Qaeda said in a statement issued on Thursday that its fighters had on the previous day stormed the town Odein, near Ibb, killing three soldiers and holding it for nine hours to prevent the Houthis from taking over.
In the most recent advances outside Sanaa, Houthis took control on Thursday of the small Red Sea port of Medi and al-Dawaymeh island, both near the border with Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this week they took over the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, the second largest port in the Arabian peninsula nation after Aden, with the apparent agreement of the police, according to local officials.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari,; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky