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Yemen Rebels Seize Presidential Complex

Houthi Shi'ite Yemeni gather while guarding a street leading to the presidential palace in Sana'a, Yemen, Jan. 20, 2015.
Houthi Shi'ite Yemeni gather while guarding a street leading to the presidential palace in Sana'a, Yemen, Jan. 20, 2015.

Houthi rebels in Yemen seized the presidential compound and attacked the president's home Tuesday in Sana'a, in the latest attack targeting leadership in the country.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for a truce, demanding the government's full authority be restored. After a hastily called U.N. Security Council meeting Tuesday, diplomats condemned the violence, and also called for a lasting cease-fire.

Sana'a, Yemen
Sana'a, Yemen

Separately, the U.N. Security Council held a special meeting on the situation in Yemen.

Jamal Benomar, U.N. special envoy to Yemen, told the 15-nation body via video link that the Houthis had persuaded other military units not to fight them, a diplomat present at the closed-door session told Reuters.

The United States remains "firmly committed" to supporting Hadi and his government and is calling for an "immediate cessation of hostilities," a State Department official said.

Washington has been increasingly concerned about the turmoil in Yemen, in part because it relies on the Yemeni government for help in U.S. counterrorism operations against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which claimed responsibility for the Jan. 7 attacks in Paris.

In a televised speech, rebel leader Abdel Malik Al Houthi said his faction is seeking an end to "corruption and totalitarianism" in the country. He stopped short of calling for the government to stand down, but warned further action against it was possible.

The whereabouts of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi remained unclear late Tuesday, though one official said he was safe inside his home.

Houthi forces, calling for greater rights for Yemen's Shi'ite minority, overran the capital in September and later signed a deal calling for a new government. But violence has continued.

The latest spasm followed apparently unsuccessful negotiations earlier Tuesday between President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and a representative of the Houthis at his residence.

Yemen's official government spokeswoman, Nadia al-Saqqaf, posted on her Twitter account on Tuesday that Hadi's home in downtown Sana'a has come under “heavy shelling since 3:00 PM by armed forces positioned over rooftops facing his house.”

Hadi, 69, was reported to be inside the house. His condition is unknown.

Rebels seize state media

On Monday, the Houthi rebels seized control of state media in Sana’a and clashed with Yemeni soldiers near the presidential palace. Monday's violence left at least nine people dead and 67 were wounded, said Yemen deputy health minister Nasser Baoum.

On Saturday, the Houthis kidnapped Hadi's chief of staff as the government was trying to draft a new constitution.

Yemen has been wracked by internal divisions.

The Houthi movement has spread beyond its traditional rebellion in the north, separatists continue to press their cause in the south, and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed attacks both at home and abroad, most recently on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris earlier this month.

The weakening of Hadi, a top U.S. ally, also undermines efforts by America and its allies to battle al-Qaida's Yemeni affiliate, long viewed by Washington as the global terror network's most dangerous affiliate.

Some material for this report came from Reuters, AFP and AP.