Yemen: Clashes kill at least 23 al-Qaida militants

Yemen's army battled with al-Qaida in two contested southern towns in fighting that left at least 23 militants dead, the country's Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.

The government has claimed for weeks that it is on the verge of recapturing Zinjibar, capital of the southern Abyan province, that fell to militants over a year ago, and that it is pushing on to the al-Qaida stronghold of Jaar. But clashes in the two towns continue.

In the latest battles, the ministry reported intense overnight clashes between government troops backed by artillery in Zinjibar and nearby Qut that left 23 dead, including Pakistani and Somali nationals.

Other fighting in the town of Jaar left 10 al-Qaida fighters dead or injured, military officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

On Monday, two suicide bombers tried to hit army barracks and checkpoints to the east of Zinjibar in an attempt to stop the military from advancing in the south, killing four army-allied militiamen. Al-Qaida has increasingly used suicide bombers and car bombs to try to stop the military offensive in the south, which escalated started May 12.

Al-Qaida-linked militants took advantage of Yemen's political turmoil last year to seize broad swaths of the south. The network's branch in Yemen, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, was behind the failed Christmas 2009 attempt to bomb an American airliner as well as a foiled attempt the following year to mail package bombs to the United States.