Yemen air raid kills 13 militants – local official

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Yemeni war planes bombed a village in south Yemen yesterday, killing at least 13 people who a local official said were Islamist militants challenging army control in the flashpoint province of Abyan.

The army has launched an offensive against militants whom they suspect of ties to al Qaeda and who have seized several areas in Abyan in recent months — including the provincial capital Zinjibar, which lies east of a strategic shipping lane where some 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.

But it has yet to recapture any significant territory other than an army camp near the coastal provincial capital.

Residents and a local official said warplanes twice bombed the village of al-Khamila, about 10 km (six miles) from Zinjibar.

As protests against Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh rule drag into their sixth month, Abyan has faced rising bloodshed, with the army fighting to regain control. About 90,000 people have fled the clashes.

Violence has also broken out near protest centres, where thousands of demonstrators have camped out for months. On Monday, residents of Taiz, some 200 km (125 miles) south of the capital Sanaa, said the army was shelling an area outside the city.

Opposition sources later told Reuters that air force planes attacked a tribal area outside Taiz, killing one civilian and wounding five. The air raid targeted tribesmen who have sided with protesters.

The Defence Ministry said on its website that pro-opposition gunmen had attacked several checkpoints in Taiz.

A security official told Reuters that two soldiers were killed and four hurt in the attacks.

With Saleh in hospital in Saudi Arabia since he was wounded in a bomb attack on his compound in June, a political stalemate has stoked tensions. In recent weeks, clashes in Taiz have broken out almost daily between state forces and pro-opposition tribesmen.

Eruptions of violence amid mass protests, and especially the militant threat in south Yemen, have kindled fear among foreign powers that rising turmoil on the doorstep of oil giant Saudi Arabia could be exploited by al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing.

Opposition leaders have accused Saleh of deliberately relinquishing parts of Abyan to al Qaeda-linked militants in a ploy aimed at persuading foreign powers that only he stands in the way of a militant takeover.