Image: Yemeni tribesmen on guard
Hani Mohammed  /  AP
Armed Yemeni tribesmen loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the powerful Hashid tribe, stand guard Monday outside al-Ahmar's house in in Sanaa, Yemen.
msnbc.com news services
updated 7/5/2011 3:33:31 PM ET 2011-07-05T19:33:31

At least 40 militants linked to al-Qaida have been killed in two days of airstrikes and clashes with government forces, Yemen's state news agency said Tuesday.

The report by the SABA news agency said the government attacks began after militants tried to storm a military camp in the southern province of Abyan, where Islamist fighters have seized control of several towns.

The militant takeovers are part of widening chaos in Yemen since protests broke out in February calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is being treated in Saudi Arabia for wounds sustained in an attack on his palace last month.

The SABA report added that two government soldiers were killed and 20 others injured in the Abyan fighting.

Al-Qaida's followers in Yemen, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, is considered one of the terrorist network's most active branches and has been linked to several attempts on U.S. targets, including the plot to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner in December 2009 and parcel bombs intercepted in Dubai and Europe last year.

The militant group leading the attacks in the Abyan area, Ansar al-Sharia, posted last month the names of 12 military officers it vowed to kill for taking part in crackdowns against its fighters.

In Saudi Arabia, the country's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said the health of Yemen president's is "generally good." He gave no further details on Saleh's condition or plans.

Story: New plan to defeat al-Qaida: 'Surgical' strikes, not costly wars

Al-Faisal was speaking in Riyadh at a joint news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

The military campaign continued Tuesday as Yemeni warplanes bombed southern cities held by militants, while a top general called in a television interview for foreign intervention to help avert a regional security crisis.

Militants still hold tight grip
Despite stepping up military operations in the south, it has yet to loosen the militants' grip on several sites in Abyan. Militants took a makeshift military base last week and have surrounded another base.

Yemen ramped up air raids in Abyan on Tuesday, killing four gunmen in the militant-held city of Jaar, but local officials complain the raids often hit the wrong target.

A raid on the house of a top parliamentarian on the outskirts of Zinjibar killed four of his cousins and wounded six civilians in what appeared to be a botched operation.

The flight of thousands of people from violence in the south has also raised the specter of a humanitarian crisis in a country already on the verge of collapse.

An official told a U.N. delegation visiting Yemen on Monday that some 54,000 people had fled Abyan to neighboring Aden, near the mouth of a key shipping lane through which about 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.

The Associated Press and Reuters also contributed to this report.

Video: US steps up covert attacks in Yemen

Photos: July

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  1. A man prepares the grave of Hassan al-Hora during his funeral at a cemetery in Sanaa, July 19. Fighting between government forces and opposition supporters erupted in Yemen's capital Sanaa on Monday, killing six people, among them al-Hora, opposition sources said. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Anti-government protesters shout slogans during a demonstration to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of Taiz, July 19. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A girl has ''will not leave'' written on her face during a rally to support Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa July 17. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Anti-government protestors shout slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Wednesday, July 13. (Mohammed Hamoud / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. An anti-government protester writes slogans on a wall using his own blood during a rally to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh at Tagheer square in Sanaa on July 13. The words read "In my blood I protect Yemen." (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Girls light candles as they attend a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of Taiz July 9. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A Yemeni anti-government protester displays bullets allegedly fired by supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a demonstration demanding Saleh’s ousting, in Sana'a, Yemen on July 8. (Yahya Arhab / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh sit on stone pillars during a rally in support of President Saleh in Sana'a, Yemen, on July 8. Supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh staged rallies around his vacant palace Friday after their leader's first TV appearance since being injured in a blast last month and leaving for treatment in Saudi Arabia. (Mohammed Al-Sayaghi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A supporter of Saleh kisses his picture as his supporters celebrate in Sanaa on July 7 after he appeared on television for the first time since he was severely wounded in an assassination attempt. (Mohammed Huwais / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Saleh delivers a speech from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on July 7, making his first public appearance since he was wounded in an attack on his palace in Sanaa in June. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Anti-government protesters join their hands and shout slogans demanding an end to the 32-year regime of President Saleh, in Sanaa on July 6. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A police vehicle is set ablaze during clashes between armed followers of the opposition and police in the southern city of Taiz on July 6. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A relative of victims of recent clashes talks to a member of the United Nations human rights investigation team, left, in Sanaa on July 5. The U.N. team arrived in Yemen last week to assess the situation in the country after months of unrest. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Women recite prayers during a rally to demand the ouster of President Saleh in the southern city of Taiz on July 1. Tens of thousands of Yemenis turned Friday prayers into rallies for and against Saleh, who is recovering from injuries sustained in an assassination attempt in June. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Man prepares the grave of al-Hora during his funeral at a cemetery in Sanaa
    Suhaib Salem / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (14) Political unrest in Yemen - July
  2. Image:
    Hani Mohammed / AP
    Slideshow (39) Political unrest in Yemen - June
  3. Image: Anti-government protests in Yemen
    Wadia Mohammed / EPA
    Slideshow (59) Political unrest in Yemen - May
  4. Image:
    Hani Mohammed / AP
    Slideshow (25) Political unrest in Yemen - April
  5. Image: Tens of thousands of Yemenis take to the
    AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (67) Political unrest in Yemen - Earlier photos

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