Critics say move against militants in Abyan province is a dangerous escalation in Yemen's fight against terror, with residents saying the government will not succeed in clashes with the Islamic militants because they are a core part of a number of southern provinces.
US drone attacks in Yemen ignore Al Qaeda for local militants
Among the targets has been the Jaar farm of Khaled Abdul Nabi, considered one of the most powerful Islamic militants in Yemen since the early 1990s, according to the interior ministry.
"More than 85 per cent of the fighters killed in Abyan over the last three weeks have not been Al Qaeda members. Militants in Abyan and other areas in the south are well-known Jihadists, but we cannot prove their links to Al Qaeda," said the official. Last week, the interior ministry said it arrested 10 militants in Aden believed to be fighters with links to Mr Nabi.
Qasem Bin Hadi, head of security in Zinjibar, Abyan, said that the majority of the militants killed were terrorists.
"Who said that only Al Qaeda is a terrorist group in Yemen? These militants are causing as much problems for Yemen as Al Qaeda," Mr Hadi said, adding that Abyan has turned into a ghost town and that clashes between government forces and militants are non-stop.
"Bodies of dead people are everywhere in the streets," he said.
Critics feel this is a dangerous escalation in Yemen's fight against terror.
Ali Abdul Jabbar, director of Dar Ashraf Research Centre in Sana'a, said: "There are thousands of Islamic militants in the south, but only 200-300 Al Qaeda members. The militants are more moderate than Al Qaeda but the government considers them a risk."
Mr Abdul Jabbar said Islamic militants in Abyan have never harmed US interests in the region but this could change after the continuous US drone attacks.
More than 200 people have been killed in the ongoing clashes, but medical officials at Razi Hospital in Abyan said that half of the dead were civilians.
Ali Hashem, a medic at Razi Hospital, said: "Government is killing residents and then they announce they killed militants. Most of those admitted to the hospital were not fighters.
"Government is making its stance clear and that they will target anyone causing chaos in the country."
Residents feel the government will not succeed in clashes with the Islamic militants because they are a core part of a number of southern provinces.
Saleh Luqman, an Abyan store owner who refused to leave the war-torn province, said: "The militants will not surrender. The government has killed dozens of civilians over the last three weeks, many of them militants' relatives. They are fighting for their lives and avenging the death of loved ones."
Militants have taken over the majority of Lahj province over the last week and entered Yemen's business capital, Aden.
Nabil Bukairi, director of the Abaad Research Centre in Sana'a, said: "You cannot fight an entire country. The ideology of jihad is wide spread in the south, and to uproot it, you would have to kill millions of people.
"This is the beginning of a long war that will kill thousands and solve nothing."