15 Killed in Clashes between Army, Qaida in Yemenإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Heavy clashes between troops and suspected al-Qaida gunmen at the gates of the southern Yemen city of Zinjibar left 15 people dead, nine of them soldiers, the military and medics said Tuesday.
The fighting erupted overnight when troops advanced on Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, as they prepared to wrest it back from the control of suspected al-Qaida militants, who overran most of it on May 29.
"Heavy fighting broke out between the army and al-Qaida gunmen when troops advanced towards the city to storm it," said a military official, giving a toll of nine soldiers dead and at least 10 wounded.
One medic confirmed the toll of soldiers while another said that "al-Razi hospital in (the nearby town) Jaar received the bodies of six al-Qaida gunmen while four wounded militants were also brought in."
The two sides blasted each other with machine guns, artillery rounds and mortar shells, military sources said, adding that the army will continue fighting the jihadists until the city is freed from their grip.
Military commanders told Agence France Presse Monday that three brigades had been brought to Zinjibar from the provinces of Aden and Lahij.
They said the troops were ready to enter Zinjibar and break the siege of a military base inside the city.
Gunmen seized control of much of Zinjibar in late May. Security officials said the militants were al-Qaida fighters but the political opposition accused the government of embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh of inventing a jihadist threat in a bid to head off Western pressure on his 33-year rule.
Inside the city, only the base of the 25th mechanized brigade remains in government hands.
Scores of soldiers have been killed in clashes in and around Zinjibar.
Yemen is the home of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate of the slain Osama bin Laden's militant network. The group is blamed for anti-U.S. plots including trying to blow up a U.S.-bound airplane on Christmas Day in 2009.