Yemen forces kill 30 'Qaeda' fighters in Abyan

Yemeni army troops have killed 30 "Al-Qaeda fighters" in a clash in southern Abyan province, including a leading member of the jihadist network, the defence ministry said on Tuesday.

The militants were killed in "fierce fighting that lasted more than three hours" on the outskirts of the city of Zinjibar, which is held by suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen, the ministry website said.

It said that Hassan al-Aqili, described as a leading member of the Al-Qaeda in the northern region of Marib, was killed in the confrontation.

Military and medics said earlier on Tuesday that 15 people, including nine soldiers, were killed in clashes overnight as army advanced to Zinjibar.

Gunmen seized control of much of Zinjibar in late May. Security officials said the militants were Al-Qaeda 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 mechanised brigade remains in government hands.

Scores of soldiers have been killed in clashes in and around Zinjibar.

Yemen is the home of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate of the slain Osama bin Laden's militant network. The group is blamed for anti-US plots including trying to blow up a US-bound airplane on Christmas Day in 2009.

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