Yemen struggles with deadly ambushes in south and fierce clashes in north
ADEN - Suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen ambushed and killed six soldiers on Sunday in the southern Yemeni province of Abyan as dozens of people have been killed in weekend clashes in northern Yemen between the army, allied tribes and Shiite Huthi rebels.
"Gunmen belonging to Al-Qaeda have ambushed an army vehicle" on a main road outside Mahfad, shooting dead all of the soldiers on board, the official said.
The assailants then took the soldiers' weapons and fled, the official added.
In late April, the Yemeni army launched a ground offensive against Al-Qaeda in Abyan and nearby Shabwa province.
The operation aimed to expel the militants of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from smaller towns and villages in the two provinces that escaped a previous sweep in 2012.
AQAP is considered by Washington as the most dangerous affiliate of the jihadist network for its role in failed attacks against the United States.
Taking advantage of a collapse of central authority during a 2011 uprising that forced veteran strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, AQAP seized swathes of south and east Yemen.
According to a tally compiled from official and other sources, Yemeni security forces lost 374 personnel battling Al-Qaeda, northern rebels and southern separatists as well as in targeted assassinations during the first half of 2014.
In northern Yemen, the Huthis -- also known as Ansarullah -- have advanced from their mountain strongholds towards Sanaa in a suspected attempt to expand their sphere of influence as Yemen is reorganised into six regions.
The clashes intensified on Saturday in the western neighbourhoods of Amran city, as well as eastern and southern outskirts, and Yemeni fighter jets bombed rebel positions around the city, various sources said.
A medical official in Amran said "at least 40 people were killed" in the western neighbourhoods of the city.
Military and tribal sources said dozens were killed in other neighbourhoods.
"Our hospital received 20 dead bodies, including soldiers, tribal fighters and rebels, and 60 wounded, some with serious injuries," said an official at Amran's main hospital.
"The number of casualties is beyond our capacity," he said.
Huthis have been battling the central government for years from their Saada heartland, complaining of marginalisation under former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down in 2012 after a year-long uprising.
Clashes erupted anew last month in the north, ending an 11-day truce agreed after mediation backed by United Nations envoy Jamal Benomar.
The rebels say a federalisation plan agreed in February after national talks as part of a political transition would divide Yemen into rich and poor regions.
They seized areas of Amran province in fighting with tribes in February that killed more than 150 people.