Military sources in Yemen have said 27 al Qaeda militants and six soldiers died during clashes in the south of the country. Yemen's army says it is pushing the rebels back and reclaiming territory.
Yemeni military officials said on Saturday that 33 people, including six soldiers, were killed in fresh clashes targeting al Qaeda fighters in the south of the country.
The most fierce fighting was reported in the town of Zinjibar in the southern Abyan province, while a further seven militants were said to have died in nearby Jaar.
According to the defense ministry's website, the 25th Mechanized Brigade "managed early on Saturday to deal heavy blows to terrorists in Maraqid and Mashqasa … killing 20 terrorist elements, most of them Somalis." That report quoted Brigadier General Mohammed al-Sawmali.
Yemeni forces launched a major offensive on May 12, seeking to recapture territory from al Qaeda in Abyan. More than 300 people are thought to have died in the subsequent fighting.
Yemen's government was under heavy pressure ot act on al Qaeda-controlled areas from Saudi Arabia and the US, with the Pentagon now considering al Qaeda in Yemen the world's most active terror cell.
An abducted Saudi diplomat, meanwhile, was purportedly shown on an al Qaeda video posted on the group's website. A man claiming to be Abdullah al-Khaldi is seen speaking for four minutes, asking Saudi King Abdullah to agree to the kidnappers' demands. One of these demands, mentioned explicitly, is the release of detained women.
Al-Khaldi is Saudi Arabia's deputy consul in the Yemeni port city of Aden, and was abducted last March.
"I appeal to King Abdullah, the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques and the Saudi government, to save me and get me out of [captivity at the hands of] the al Qaeda organization in exchange for releasing the detained sisters … and the rest of the demands," al-Khaldi apparently said.
The Saudi Interior Ministry had previously confirmed both the kidnapping and the receipt of a string of demands from the hostage-takers. It is yet to comment on the video, however, which was emblazoned with the logo of al Qaeda's media arm, al-Malahem.
msh/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)