SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Clashes in southern Yemen Wednesday killed eight soldiers, a teenager and at least 17 militants on Wednesday, and wounded civilians had to use field clinics because government hospitals had been shut down, officials and witnesses said.
Al-Qaida linked militants have taken advantage of internal political turmoil to take over parts of southern Yemen. In recent weeks, government troops backed by U.S. airstrikes have stepped up their attacks on militants there.
Western nations believe the Yemen branch of al-Qaida is one of the group's most active and dangerous.
Wednesday's ground and air offensive unfolded in the southern Yemeni province of Abyan, where the militants seized control of its capital city and surrounding towns earlier this year.
A medical official in Abyan, which has become a flashpoint for fierce fighting between militants and the military, said Asmaa Hamza, a 14-year-old girl, was killed in Wednesday's military airstrike on al-Razi hospital. It was the second attack on the same hospital in the town of Jaar in less than 48 hours, witnesses said.
Witnesses said that Wednesday's airstrikes on Jaar also targeted a high school, a hotel, residential buildings and a police station, near areas where the military believes militants are seeking refuge.
The United Nations deplored Monday's attack on Al-Razi hospital in Abyan, according to a statement Wednesday. That attack killed at least seven civilians. "The targeting of civilians and the obstruction of humanitarian aid constitute a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law," the U.N. statement said.
Airstrikes in the area wounded at least 20 civilians, several seriously, according to a hospital official.
Local official Nasser Hussain said that in Abyan's town of Jaar, people had to open field clinics to treat wounded civilians who cannot be transferred to Aden. Government clinics were shut down after a militant takeover of the area.
Security deteriorated in Abyan when longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh left for Saudi Arabia for treatment of serious wounds following an attack on his palace in the capital Sanaa in June.
Medical officials at the military hospital in the southern province of Aden said eight soldiers were killed and 12 wounded in neighboring Abyan, near Zinjibar, the provincial capital.
Officials also said that airstrikes east of Abyan's capital Zinjibar targeted a suspected al-Qaida hideout, killing three.
The bodies of another 14 militants were found just outside Zinjibar on the rode to the city of Code, according to a Defense Ministry statement.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
The security crisis in southern Yemen, which has forced over 100,000 people to flee their homes for refuge in safer towns, comes as protesters are demanding that Saleh resign.
They have called on Saleh, who has ruled for 33 years, to accept an initiative drawn up by neighboring Gulf countries that would have him transfer his powers to his vice president.
Saleh, who remains in Saudi Arabia, has not signed the deal, charging that it is unconstitutional.
Rather than sign the proposal on behalf of Saleh, Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Wednesday announced that he would open a dialogue with signatories of the Gulf initiative on ways to implement it.
Members of the opposition rejected Hadi's proposition as a tactic to keep Saleh in power.
"The revolution is proceeding and will not accept any efforts to circumvent the Gulf initiative," said opposition spokesman Mohammed Qahtan.
Also Wednesday, officials said the governor of central Marib province survived an assassination attempt that killed one of his bodyguards and wounded four others. Marib province is considered an al-Qaida stronghold, one of several areas where the central government has little authority.
Officials said gunmen ambushed Naji al-Zaydi's car. He was not harmed, they said.