Houthi rebels on Sunday seized a provincial capital in northern Yemen near the border with Saudi Arabia, residents said, a day ahead of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.
The rebels faced little resistance in taking control of al-Hazm, the main city of Jawf province, residents and sources among local pro-government fighters said.
The city lies some 150 kilometres south of the border with Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a campaign of air strikes against the Iran-backed rebels since late March.
“There was very little resistance and the Huthis managed to seize the city and the local government complex,” said Mubarak al-Abbadi, a fighter with the Popular Resistance local militia.
Local armed groups known as Popular Resistance units have been formed in several provinces of Yemen to fight the rebels alongside forces loyal to exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Residents said that the rebels took advantage of disputes between armed tribes that were protecting the city.
The rebel-controlled Saba news agency also confirmed the seizure of the al-Hazm.
The rebels, allied with troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, overran the capital Sanaa in September and have since taken control of large parts of the country.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday’s talks in Geneva are aimed at securing a ceasefire, agreeing on a withdrawal plan for the Huthis and stepping up humanitarian aid deliveries.
The talks had been scheduled to start on Sunday but the United Nations said they would be delayed by a day due to “unforeseen circumstances”.
The delegation of the exiled government flew to Geneva on Saturday, but representatives of the rebels and Saleh have yet to travel to the Swiss city.
Representatives of the Huthis and Saleh’s General People’s Congress refused to board a UN plane from Sanaa to Geneva on Saturday because it was scheduled to stop in Jizan in Saudi Arabia, a Huthi official told AFP.