A Yemeni security official says some 1,200 inmates fled a prison in a southwestern city after guards deserted their posts amid fierce fighting between Shiite rebels and their opponents.

The official says the Tuesday jailbreak in Taiz came after the city's main prison was caught in crossfire between southerners fighting for autonomy or outright independence and the rebels, known as Houthis, who are backed by army units loyal to a former president. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

It was the third major jailbreak in Yemen since a Saudi-led air campaign against the rebels began on March 26. The Iran-backed rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, last September and control much of the country's north.