Some 17 Yemeni policemen were wounded in an ambush by Houthi rebels as fighting between government forces and the rebels neared the capital, officials said on Sunday.
The Huthis — also known as Ansarullah — are suspected of trying to expand their sphere of influence as Yemen is reorganised into six regions by pushing out from their mountain northern strongholds to areas closer to Sanaa.
“Armed militants belonging to the Ansarullah Houthi (rebels) opened fire at security patrols carrying out their duties in the capital” on Saturday, state news agency Saba said.
Militants blocked a road in Sanaa’s Al-Jarraf district, where the rebels have a representative office near to the interior ministry, and opened fire on police patrols from surrounding buildings.
Seventeen police, including three officers, were wounded in the assault, it added.
Security officials told AFP the incident took place after authorities arrested two wanted rebels and tried to arrest others.
Ansarullah said in a statement that security forces “targeted” the rebels’ bureau in Sanaa to “ignite a meaningless war.”
On Saturday, hundreds of Yemenis protested outside the presidential residence in Sanaa over what they say is the authorities’ inaction over the rebel advance on the capital.
Battles between troops and rebels neared Sanaa on Friday, with clashes reaching the town of Bani Matar, only 15 kilometres (nine miles) northwest of the capital, tribal and security sources said.
The sources said that “dozens” have been killed, but were unable to provide a toll.
Military officials have said that Yemeni jet fighters have hammered rebel positions over the past two days, destroying an arms depot in the northern town of Hamdan, while army reinforcements have been deployed around Sanaa.
A new round of clashes between rebels and security forces erupted in Yemen’s north a week ago, ending an 11-day truce agreed after mediation backed by United Nations envoy Jamal Benomar.
Huthis have been battling the central government for years from their Saada heartland