Shiite Houthi rebels have entered the key Yemeni city of Taez, seizing several state facilities. The worsening security situation in Yemen has prompted the US to pull out all its personnel.
Yemen's Shiite Houthi rebels have captured a number of strategic sites in the central city, including the airport, airbase and a court complex, local officials said on Sunday.
Located some 255 kilometers (158.45 miles) south of the capital, Sanaa, which has been in rebel hands since September, Taez provides access to the southern part of Yemen, including the city of Aden, where Western-backed President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi has fled to and set up base.
The Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, now control much of northern Yemen, while the south is dominated by Hadi allies - a divided situation that has raised fears of a civil war.
The rebel advance on Taez comes two days after suicide attacks on mosques used by Houthi supporters in Sanaa claimed at least 140 lives. The Sunni "Islamic State" jihadi group claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Due to the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the impoverished nation, the United States said on Saturday it had evacuated all its staff from the country.
However, a statement from a State Department spokesman said that the US would "continue to actively monitor terrorist threats emanating from Yemen and have capabilities postured in the area to address them."
Presidential appeal to UN
The withdrawal comes as Hadi, who escaped from house arrest under the rebels in Sanaa and fled to Aden in February, called on the UN Security Council to take action.
"I urge for your urgent intervention in all available means to stop this aggression that is aimed at undermining the legitimate authority, the fragmentation of Yemen and its peace and stability," he said in a letter to the Council.
The letter also called on the Houthis to pull their forces out of state ministries, return weapons seized from the army and relinquish control of Sanaa.
Yemen has been in political turmoil since a year-long popular insurrection forced former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in early 2012, leading to a situation of instability used by different powerful armed groups to assert their power.
The country is now in the grips of a growing conflict between the Shiite Houthis and Sunni tribes, partly aided by the Sunni terror network al Qaeda, who are trying to stop the rebels' advance toward the south.
tj/sb (AFP, dpa, Reuters)