Collateral damage: Civilians pay price of Qaeda-army clash in Yemen
At least 24 people were killed in south Yemen on Tuesday, including 12 civilians mistakenly killed in an air raid, sources said, as an army offensive against Al-Qaeda militants raged into a fourth straight day.
The civilians died in an air raid on a house in the Al-Qaeda stronghold of Jaar, in restive Abyan province, witnesses said.
A first air strike killed two Al-Qaeda suspects while the civilians, part of a group who had gathered around the residence right after the attack, died in a second air raid that followed soon after, the witnesses added.
"Eight bodies were pulled out of the rubble," one witness said. Another four among 25 civilians injured in the second attack later died of their wounds, according to residents.
Yemeni air force raids on Jaar continued during the day, the sources said.
A Yemeni aircraft had on Friday dropped leaflets across the province warning residents to stay clear of areas where Al-Qaeda militants are gathered.
Meanwhile, an army official said that two soldiers were killed in battles between Yemen's army and Al-Qaeda militants around Loder, another town in Abyan which jihadists have been trying to control.
Ali Ahmed, spokesman of the Popular Resistance Committees, formed by residents of Loder and nearby Mudia to battle jihadists alongside the army, said two of its members were also killed and 12 were wounded in the clashes.
Ahmed said six Al-Qaeda militants were also killed as both sides exchanged artillery fire in what he described as "fierce" battles raging around Loder.
Loder is the only Abyan town besides Mudia which is still not under the control of the extremists, who overran the provincial capital Zinjibar in May last year.
Fighting between the army and residents on one side and the extremists on the other for the control of both towns left more than 200 people dead early in April.
Yemeni forces at the weekend launched a multi-pronged assault aimed at recapturing Al-Qaeda-held towns and cities across Abyan, including Zinjibar.
Tribal sources said on Monday that battles in the south had seen 37 militants killed in two days.
A military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that 12 soldiers have been killed since the operation was launched on Saturday. But the defence ministry news website 26sep.net put the toll at six dead.
Attacks on Al-Qaeda by Yemeni forces with US backing have intensified in recent weeks.
Early last week, air strikes by US drones in eastern Yemen killed jihadist network leader Fahd al-Quso, wanted by Washington in connection with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Aden harbour.
Quso's name figured on an FBI list of most wanted terrorists, along with a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest.
John Brennan, US President Barack Obama's top counter-terrorism aide held talks in Sanaa on Sunday with Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.
Their discussions revolved around "combatting terrorism" and attempts by Yemen's army to crush the local branch of Al-Qaeda, state news agency Saba reported.
Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, who have named themselves the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law), exploited the decline in central government control that accompanied Arab Spring-inspired protests that eventually forced president Ali Abdullah Saleh to cede power in February.