SANAA, Yemen – Yemen's Shiite rebels who recently overtook the capital, Sanaa, tried to impose their authority at the city's international airport, setting off overnight clashes with security personnel that killed four people, officials said Tuesday.
The clashes erupted when airport security tried to prevent the Houthi rebels from interfering in airport affairs and trying to search passengers.
Three security guards and a rebel were among those killed, security officials said. Two other guards and an airport employee were wounded.
The powerful Houthis, widely suspected of having links to Shiite powerhouse Iran, took Sanaa in September and later expanded their offensive to other towns and cities across the country, waging battles with Sunni tribesmen and also militants from Yemen's al-Qaida branch, plunging the troubled nation into even more turmoil.
Flights from Sanaa were suspended during the overnight clashes at the airport but were later back on, said the officials.
Meanwhile, a senior Foreign Ministry official said the ministry had received complaints from more than one embassy in Sanaa over the behavior of the rebels at the airport before the clashes, including attempts to search foreign diplomats, diplomatic pouches and confiscating liquor from passengers.
The U.S. Embassy had also complained, saying the Houthi rebels at the airport tried to search parcels coming through the diplomatic pouch on a special plane from Washington, the ministry official said.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.
In Washington, the State Department said Monday it had reduced the numbers of American staff at the embassy in Yemen due to the deteriorating of situation in the country, but the embassy would remain open.
The drawdown coincided with the Treasury imposing sanctions on Yemen's former president and two military commanders linked to the Houthi rebels and cames amid a rise in anti-American protests. The sanctions were imposed after the U.N. Security Council last Friday added the same three men to its sanctions list for threatening the peace, security and stability of Yemen.
Thousands of Houthis and supporters of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh rallied in Sanaa on Friday, denouncing the United States over its push for sanctions against Saleh and rebel leaders. They also demanded that the American ambassador leave the country.