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Yemen: 40 militants killed in airstrikes, clashes

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.
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.Hani Mohammed / AP
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

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.

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 gripD espite 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.