The embattled Yemeni prime minister was preparing to flee the country Tuesday for Saudi Arabia after separatists seized the area around the presidential palace in the southern port city of Aden in fierce battles overnight, security officials said.
In a separate development, suspected Islamic militants attacked a checkpoint in the country's southern Shabwa province on Tuesday, killing at least 12 soldiers there. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but Yemeni troops have claimed victory over Al Qaeda in the province.
According to the security officials, fighters loyal to the so-called Southern Transitional Council fought all way to the gates of the Palace of Maashiq in the district of Crater in Aden, forcing President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's troops to abandon their positions. The officials said Hadi's prime minister and several Cabinet members would leave Yemen imminently for Riyadh.
The palace is the seat of Yemen's internationally backed government. The separatist forces did not enter the palace itself and were stopped by Saudi Arabian troops who have been guarding the palace for the past months.
However, a senior government official told the Associated Press that Prime Minister Ahmed Obaid Bin Daghar and several ministers remained inside the palace and that the separatists had not seized the palace itself.
The official declined to say whether the prime minister was to leave Aden. The security officials and the government official spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations.
The fighting in Aden first erupted on Sunday, when a deadline issued by the separatists for the government to resign expired. Hadi, who has been in Saudi Arabia for most of the war, has described the separatists' action as a "coup."