Yemen rebels make gains in battleground southern city

ADEN (AFP) - Yemeni Shi'ite rebels captured the provincial government headquarters in Aden on Sunday, pushing into new areas of the battleground southern city despite a Saudi-led air campaign, a local official said.

The rebel forces advanced during the night to reach the central district of Mualla where they took the local seat of government including the governor's office, said the official, who did not want to be named.

The advancing Houthi militia, allied with rebel army units, bombarded residential areas, setting fire to several buildings and damaging others, witnesses said.

Residents reported casualties and said dozens of families had fled their homes in the port city, the heart of which sits on an extinct volcano jutting out into the sea.

The rebel forces advanced to near the port of Mualla, which is defended by militiamen of "popular committees" loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who has fled to neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

"Snipers, who took position on the roofs of provincial government buildings, targeted passersby and members of the popular committees," pro-Hadi fighter Khalid Bashaea told AFP.

At least 185 people are reported to have been killed in the fighting in Aden between supporters and opponents of the president.

The Houthis, who hail from the mainly Shi'ite northern mountains, overran the capital Sanaa in September and launched a power takeover in February, prompting Hadi to take refuge in Aden.

He left for Saudi Arabia last month as the Houthis and allied army units loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh approached Aden, among the last footholds of Hadi supporters.

The Houthis seized the hilltop presidential palace in Aden on Thursday but soon retreated after air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, which has been bombarding rebel positions around the country for the past 11 days.

The coalition has also airdropped weapons to pro-Hadi fighters in the southern city.

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