ADEN - Houthi fighters, backed by supporters of former Yemen
i President Ali Abdullah Saleh entered the provincial capital of the mainly Sunni Shabwa province in easternYemen on Thursday, residents said, despite intense Saudi-led air strikes against the group.
Residents said local tribal chiefs and security officials facilitated the entry of the Houthi forces to the city of Ataq, where they took control of the offices of the local government and security forces compounds.
It was the first time that the Houthis, who hail from the Zaidi branch of Shi'ite Islam, and forces loyal to Saleh had entered the city, where the fiercely Sunni Muslim Awlaki tribe comes from.
The takeover brings the Houthis and Saleh's forces closer to the country's most prized economic asset, the Belhaf gas facility and export terminal, on the Arabian Sea about 160 km (100 miles) to the southeast.
Saudi Arabia, backed by four Gulf Arab states and other regional Arab allies, has mounted two weeks of air strikes against the Iran-allied Houthis after they pushed south toward Aden, the stronghold of Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The air campaign failed to stop the Shi'ite Houthis and soldiers loyal to Saleh entering central Aden. But the coalition says it has cut Houthi supply lines, destroyed weapons depots and pushed them back in some southern provinces around Aden.
Earlier in the day, residents of al-Siddah district in central Yemen said they woke to find al Qaeda flags flying over local government offices.
They said a group of al Qaeda militants led by a local commander known as Ma'mour al-Hakem, took over the district at night. Residents said the Houthis, who had been in control of the town for more than two months, retreated without a fight. - Reuters