Families from the northern Yemeni city of Amran take refugee in the capital of Sanaa, on July 8, after fleeing their home as battles between the Yemeni army and Shiite Muslim rebels intensifies. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

Fighters from a Yemeni Shiite rebel group took control Tuesday of a northwestern city where they have been fighting for weeks with conservative Sunnis from one of the country’s largest tribes, government and military officials said.

The officials said the rebels seized control of Amran, about 45 miles north of the capital, Sanaa, deploying fighters and vehicles at government offices, banks and shops.

Witnesses said fighters from the Hashid tribal confederation, one of the country’s largest and allied with the al-Islah party, the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, were nowhere to be seen in the city. In weeks of fighting, the Sunni tribesmen were backed by a local army unit. But the officials and witnesses said the rebel fighters did not storm or take over the military camps.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the news media.

The Shiite Houthis were backed by other local tribes in Amran province, including disgruntled members of the Hashid and members of another large tribal confederation, Bakil.

A spokesman for the Houthi rebels, Mohammed Abdul-Salam, said his group had no intention of replacing the government in the city, adding that it is fighting what he called an extremist group.

Fighting in Amran, which raged for weeks, killed scores and forced families to leave the area. The Yemeni Red Crescent estimated that 15,000 families had fled the violence. On Tuesday, witnesses said bodies littered the ground after days of clashes over control of the city. There has been no official statement about the number of casualties.

Khaled al-Haidari, a leader of the Bakil tribal confederation, said Amran was celebrating the defeat of the Hashid fighters.

“Amran will celebrate today the fall of the corrupt tyrants,” he said, adding that the province’s dominant Hashid clan has been plundering its resources for years.

There was no comment from the Hashid or the central government in Sanaa.

The Houthis waged a six-year insurgency in the north against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh that officially ended in 2010. But fighting has often reignited, and attempts at lasting cease-fires have repeatedly failed.

Yemen, the poorest nation in the Arab world, is facing multiple challenges. In addition to the presence of the world’s most dangerous al-Qaeda offshoot in several of its cities, the country faces a secessionist movement in the south and the Houthi rebellion in the north.

Since the ouster of Saleh, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has worked on restructuring the military and security forces to ensure full loyalty to the new leadership. He has, however, also complained of what he describes as Saleh’s attempts to hinder reforms.

On Tuesday, Hadi traveled to Saudi Arabia on an unannounced visit. The situation in Amran is likely to figure in his talks with Saudi officials.

— Associated Press