Yemen’s powerful Houthi movement fought artillery battles with the army near the presidential palace in Sanaa on Monday, plunging the fragile Arab state deeper into turmoil and drawing accusations that the militia fighters were mounting a coup.
Explosions echoed across the city and plumes of dark smoke hung over downtown buildings as the most intense clashes since the Shia Muslim Houthi movement seized the capital in September brought everyday life to a halt.
The Houthis had seized the state news agency and television station, a government minister said. Medical sources said five people had been killed and more than 20 wounded. Final numbers were likely to be higher.
The street battles marked a new low in the fortunes of Yemen, plagued by tribal divisions, a separatist challenge in the south and the threat from a regional wing of al Qaeda, which claimed a deadly Jan. 7 attack in Paris on a satirical journal known for mocking Islam.
The Houthis’ September takeover made them the country’s de facto top power, a development that has scrambled relationships and raised tensions across the political spectrum ever since.
Information minister Nadia al-Saqqaf, a critic of the Houthis, told Reuters the presidential palace had come under “direct attack” in what she described as an attempted coup. “If you attack the presidential palace ... This is aggressive, of course it is an attempted coup,” she said.
However, a late night report said that a ceasefire has gone into effect in the Yemeni capital after hours of fighting between the army and Houthi militiamen. The report quoted Interior Minister Jalal al-Roweishan as saying on Monday.