SANAA : Yemeni rebels have seized a major port city to add to their fast-expanding territory, just hours after a new premier was named in a bid to resolve the political crisis. The Huthi rebels met little resistance as they overran Hudeida late Monday, taking control of Yemen’s second most important seaport, a security official said. “Huthi militants are deployed across vital installations, including the airport and the port,” the official said.

Military and rebel sources confirmed that Huthi militants were seen deployed across main roads in the city, which is home to more than two million people. Witnesses and local sources said the militants had set up checkpoints at the city’s main entrances, while a security guard was reported dead when the rebels seized a court building. A local official said that the Huthis had captured an arms depot near Hudeida before they launched their offensive.

The takeover came just weeks after the rebels swept into the capital Sanaa, 226 kilometres (140 miles) to the east.

The impoverished country has been wracked by political turmoil and sporadic violence since an uprising toppled strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012.

Rebels and militants have been battling to exploit a power vacuum in Yemen, which is located next to oil-rich Saudi Arabia and key shipping routes in the Gulf of Aden.

The rebels, who are traditionally based in the north, have been battling troops in recent months as part of their bid to spread their control across the country.

Huthi militiamen stormed into Sanaa on September 21, easily seizing key government installations, and they now man checkpoints and run patrols across the capital in almost total absence of the security forces.

Military sources had previously warned that the rebels were looking to take control of Hudeida and to extend their presence to the narrow Bab al-Mandab strait, which leads to the Suez canal.

Bab al-Mandeb, a chokepoint whose Arabian shores are only 40 kilometres (25 miles) across the water from Africa, carried an estimated 3.4 million barrels of oil a day in 2011, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

In the east of the country, the Huthis are apparently eyeing Yemen’s oil and gas reserves in Marib.

The rebels, who are also known as Ansarullah and have fought the central government for more than a decade, had recently deployed thousands of armed men in Hudeida in preparation for its takeover.

The Huthis, who have long complained of marginalisation by Sanaa, are concentrated in the mostly Shia northern highlands in otherwise Yemen.

Hadi on Monday named an envoy to the UN, Khalid Bahah, as the new premier, after the rebels rejected an earlier choice.

Bahah’s nomination appeared to have the support of the rebels, and the appointment of a neutral prime minister was seen as a key step in persuading them to withdraw from Sanaa.

The rebels appear influenced by Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah, which is supported by Tehran, and their advance has raised fears of further instability in an already volatile region.

The Gulf Cooperation Council warned on October 1 that it “will not stand idly by in the face of factional foreign intervention,” in reference to Iran’s alleged backing for the Huthis.

Yemen is a key US ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda, which has claimed a string of attacks in the country, including a suicide bombing targeting Huthi supporters in the capital last week that left 47 people dead.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), seen by the United States as the network’s deadliest branch, also said it was behind an attack that killed 20 soldiers in southeastern Hadramawt province on the same day.