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Clashes intensify in Yemeni army offensive on militant-held cities

More than 40 people, including 12 civilians, were killed in air strikes and clashes in the southern province of Abyan where the army, backed by civilian fighters, have been battling Al Qaeda militants.

SANAA // More than 40 people, including 12 civilians, were killed yesterday in air strikes and clashes in the southern province of Abyan where the army, backed by civilian fighters, have been battling Al Qaeda militants.

Witnesses said at least eight militants were killed in clashes in Jaar, a stronghold for the militants known as Ansar Al Sharia, or Islamic Law Partisans.

They said at least two suspected militants were killed in a strike on a home in Jaar while the 12 civilians, who arrived at the scene to help with the rescue, were killed in a second air raid. Four militants were also killed in the second attack. The other two militants were killed in other attacks.

Residents said the city was rocked by blasts and fighter jets were spotted. It was not clear whether the raid was carried out by US drones or by the Yemeni air force. US drones are suspected of killed 12 militants Sunday in strikes in Marib and Shabwa provinces.

In the city of Lawdar, 20 militants, six civilian fighters and two soldiers were killed yesterday in battles, said officials. Twenty-two civilian fighters were wounded while two militants were captured, they added.

In clashes that raged for hours, the fighters, backed by the army, took control of Yasuf Mountain from where militants had shelled the city and army posts.

Reports say fighting between the army and residents on one side and the extremists on the other for the control of both towns left more than 200 people dead early in April.

Yemeni forces at the weekend launched an all-out offensive to recapture Al Qaeda-held towns and cities across Abyan, including its capital, Zinjibar, and Jaar.

The military last week dropped leaflets warning civilians to stay clear of Al Qaeda hideouts in preparation for the offensive.

Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen has been able to exploit the decline in central government control that accompanied Arab Spring-inspired protests that eventually forced president Ali Abdullah Saleh to cede power in February.


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* With additonal reporting by the Associated Press

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