Sanaa: Yemeni warplanes launched a series of airstrikes in a southern province overrun by Islamic militants, killing at least seven civilians and a dozen militants Monday, a witness and officials said.
A military official said at least 12 militants were killed in airstrikes in eastern Abyan province. Another local official said dozens of militants were killed in the north of the province.
Fighters with suspected links to Yemen`s al Qaeda offshoot took over towns in Abyan, including the provincial capital and another major town, Jaar, in April, taking advantage of turmoil that grew out of massive demonstrations demanding the resignation of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In June, Saleh was wounded in a bomb attack on his palace and departed for Saudi Arabia for treatment. He is still there, but he insists he will return home, defying international demands that he step down. The anti-Saleh protests and growing political disarray have created a security vacuum in southern Yemen, where al Qaeda-linked militants are battling the military for control. Western nations view al Qaeda`s branch in Yemen as one of the group`s most violent and dangerous.
A witness said Jaar`s main hospital was taken over by militants who started treating wounded fighters there and preventing civilians and residents from being admitted. The hospital was hit three times and destroyed, witness Walid Mohammed said.
"The third airstrike that targeted the hospital totally demolished it," he said.
Al Qaeda-linked militants also took over the Hamza mosque in Jaar. In an apparently mistaken strike, at least one warplane hit a mosque about half a mile (one kilometer) away, shattering one of its walls and killing seven civilians, Mohammed said.
Mohammed Hussein Nasser, a local government official, said dozens of people had been killed and wounded in the strikes on the town. He did not provide exact figures.
A secondary school that was used as a field hospital by militants was also hit by airstrike, he said.
The Yemeni air force also bombed the security headquarters but there were no immediate reports of casualties.
In separate air raids in eastern Abyan, warplanes and helicopters struck at three suspected militant hideouts between the coastal city of Shaqra and the nearby al-Arqoub region, killing at least 12 militants, a defense ministry official said. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
On Sunday, Yemen`s Defense Ministry said 17 al Qaeda militants had been killed in airstrikes elsewhere in the south.