Yemen’s embattled president fled his palace in the southern port city of Aden for an undisclosed location on Wednesday as Shiite rebels offered a bounty for his capture and arrested his defense minister.

Hours later, the rebels launched airstrikes targeting presidential forces guarding the palace.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi left just hours after the rebels’ own television station said they seized an air base where U.S. troops and Europeans advised the country in its fight against al-Qaida militants. That air base is only 60 kilometers (35 miles) away from Aden, where Hadi had established a temporary capital.

The advance of the Shiite rebels, empowered by the backing of the ousted Yemeni autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh and his loyalists, threatens to plunge the Arab world’s poorest country into a civil war that could draw in its Gulf neighbors. Already, Hadi has asked the United Nations to authorize a foreign military intervention in the country.

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