In Sana’a, the rebels, known as the Houthis, stormed the headquarters of the capital’s local government, chasing out the governor, Abdul-Ghani Jameel, who they accuse of corruption, according to the officials.
The Yemeni officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Sunday’s developments reflected the growing strength of the Houthis, who overran Sana’a last month and captured a key Red Sea port city last week along with a province south of the capital.
Early on Sunday, the Houthis captured the town of Yarim, 106 miles (about 170 kilometers) south of Sana’a in the province of Ibb. Yarim has a population of more than 100,000 and lies along the main road to Yemen’s southern provinces.
Local sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the head of security in the province of Ibb had resigned in protest over the ease with which the Houthi rebels had entered the province, without any resistance from the security forces.
They added, however, that the group had been unable to take control of the province due to resistance by locals, who they said had formed armed volunteer units to block the advance of the Shi’ite group into the province.
Despite this setback, the Houthis reportedly took over the house of a prominent Islamist politician in Yarim on Saturday, setting off clashes that left 12 people dead. The politician, who comes from the powerful Islah Party, was not home at the time. On Sunday, according to officials, they blew up the house.
The Houthis are at sharp odds with the Islah party and powerful Sunni tribes allied with it. The rebels say they are demanding a bigger share of power and a change to the country’s political order following the 2011 protests that forced longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office. But their military advances suggest they are seeking to take full control of Yemen’s northern provinces at a time when secessionist sentiments are growing in the once-independent south of Yemen.
As well as acting against their Islah Party rivals, sources also said the Houthis had also recently taken over the website of the Yemeni Socialist Party, and had taken one of the website’s editors into custody.
The movement’s advances have also triggered a growing backlash in the country, which remains beset by multiple regional and sectarian divisions. On Sunday, thousands in the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeida demonstrated to press demands for the rebels to leave the city. Similar protests had taken place in Sana’a in recent weeks.
Elsewhere, local sources told Asharq Al-Awsat around eight armed Houthi rebels had been killed and several others injured and captured in fierce fighting in Lahj during Houthi attempts to take over the southern province.
Informed political sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the media, told Asharq Al-Awsat “secret meetings” were currently underway between the Yemeni government and Houthi leaders to calm the situation throughout the country.
The sources added the government believes it is not responsible for the current escalation in violence between the Houthis and armed locals in areas the group is attempting to enter, because “citizens are armed in every corner of the country, and it is impossible to control them . . .[because they will] attempt to defend themselves against any aggression from any group, whoever it may be.”
Sources also told Asharq Al-Awsat Houthi attempts to infiltrate southern regions in the country could push the Shi’ite group toward an “armed sectarian conflict” with the Sunni extremist Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has a strong presence in southern areas of the country.
AQAP has already claimed responsibility for a series of bomb attacks on Houthi targets, including a recent suicide bombing in Sana’a earlier this month that killed almost 50 people.
Arafat Madabish contributed reporting from Sana’a