(Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least 23 people in central Yemen on Wednesday when he blew himself up at a cultural center where students were celebrating the Prophet Mohammad's birthday, state news agency Saba said.

At least 48 people were also injured, including many women and children and women, the deputy director of the provincial health department said, according to Saba. The celebration, in the city of Ibb, was organized by the Houthis, the group that controls most of Yemen.

No one claimed responsibility for attack, but it resembles bombings carried out by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which operates in Yemen. AQAP regards Shi'ites, the sect of Islam to which the Houthis belong, as heretics.

Tensions have increased in Yemen since the Houthis captured Sanaa in September and expanded south and west of the capital. The Western-allied country, which shares a long border with the world's top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, had been trying to overcome an al Qaeda threat before the Houthi advance.

Medics and residents earlier put Wednesday's death toll at 33, saying that 20 bodies were transferred to al-Thawra hospital and 13 others were taken to another hospital.

A local resident said the final death toll was likely to rise and might be more than 33. The resident, who declined to be identified, said the director general of the Ibb governorate was among the dead, but the governor, who was reported to have been wounded, had escaped unharmed.

President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in a condolence message to the Ibb governor and families of the victims, condemned "the terrorist and criminal" attack and instructed the government to ensure the wounded receive full medical attention, Saba said.

Residents reported a second explosion occurred outside one of the two hospitals, al-Thawra. But security sources later said that security forces had been firing in the air to disperse residents who had gathered in front of the hospital.