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Houthi Rebels Battle Yemeni Soldiers Near Presidential Palace

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SANAA, Yemen — A cease-fire halted intense clashes near the presidential palace in Yemen's capital Sanaa on Monday after Shiite rebels seized control of state-run media in a move that one official called "a step toward a coup." The fighting, centered on the palace and a military area south of it, marked the biggest challenge yet to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi by the rebels, known as Houthis, who swept down from their northern strongholds last year and captured the capital in September.

The violence has plunged the Arab world's poorest country further into chaos and could complicate U.S. efforts to battle al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate, which claimed responsibility for the attack on a Paris satirical magazine this month and which Washington has long viewed as the global network's most dangerous branch. The Houthis are seen by their critics as a proxy of Shiite Iran — charges they deny — and are believed to be allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, ousted in a 2012 deal after Arab Spring protests. They have vowed to eradicate al Qaeda, but are also hostile to the U.S. Their slogan is "Death to Israel. Death to America."

The Houthis and forces loyal to Hadi have been in a tense standoff for months in the capital and the two sides traded blame for the outbreak of violence early Monday. Witnesses said heavy machine gun fire could be heard as artillery shells struck around the presidential palace. Civilians in the area fled as columns of black smoke rose over the palace and sirens wailed throughout the city. Hadi doesn't live at the palace, and extra soldiers and tanks deployed around his private residence, which is nearby.

IN-DEPTH

— The Associated Press

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