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Yemen Defense Minister Arrested by Shiite Rebels

Yemen's newly appointed Defence Minister Major General Mahmoud al-Subaihi salutes as he attends an event commemorating the first anniversary of an attack on the Defence Ministry compound and hospital, which left about 60 people dead, in Sanaa, on December 6, 2014. A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-packed car into the Yemeni defence ministry complex in December 5, 2013, followed by an armed assault in which 52 people died, including seven foreign medical staff. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

SANAA, Yemen (TheBlaze/AP) — Authorities say Shiite rebels arrested Yemen's defense minister Wednesday and the country's president has fled.

The Shiite rebels and officials loyal to embattled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi both say that Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Mahmoud al-Subaihi was arrested with his top aide.

Yemen Defence Minister Major General Mahmoud al-Subaihi pictured here on December 6, 2014, was arrested by Shiite rebels on March 25. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

They say the minister was captured while fighting the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, in Yemen's southern Lahj provinces.

The arrest comes as President Hadi fled his palace in Aden for an undisclosed location. On state television, the rebels offered a cash reward of $100,000 for Hadi.

The Shiite rebels earlier seized a major air base only 35 miles away from Aden, the port city where Hadi established a temporary capital.

General People's Committee deploy at mechanized unit in Aden, Yemen on March 25. (Shaif Thabet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The satellite Al-Masirah news channel reported Wednesday that the fighters had "secured" the al-Annad air base. The U.S. recently evacuated some 100 soldiers, including Special Forces commandos, from the base after Al Qaeda seized a nearby town. Britain also evacuated soldiers.

The base was crucial in the U.S. drone campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which America considers to be the most dangerous branch of the terror group.

On Tuesday, protests turned deadly with six killed in Torba in clash with rebels:

Massive protests were also held in the third largest city of Taiz, which the rebels largely seized over the weekend.

The rebels, known as Houthis, seized the capital Sanaa in September and have been advancing south alongside forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh never fully retired, and has been widely accused of acting through his loyalists in the government and security forces to derail the country's democratic transition. He is now allied with the rebels, and his loyalists helped the Houthis to take over the airport and other government buildings in Taiz.

The Houthis hail from the Shiite Zaydi community, which makes up around a third of Yemen's population and is concentrated in the north. The Houthis' opponents view them as a proxy of Shiite Iran, charges they deny.

Hadi fled house arrest in Sanaa last month and set up a base in Aden, the capital of the once-independent south. Before he fled Aden, he earlier called on Gulf countries to intervene against the rebels and for the U.N. to set up a no-fly zone.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal meanwhile warned that "if the Houthi coup does not end peacefully, we will take the necessary measures for this crisis to protect the region."

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain — warned earlier this year that they would act to protect the Arabian Peninsula's security and described the Houthi takeover as a "terrorist" act.

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