SANAA (Reuters) - One person was killed and at least eight wounded on Friday, the third day of gunbattles between Yemeni forces and suspected al Qaeda militants, the Defense Ministry said.
Tribal leaders have given higher casualty tolls for the military operation, which was launched on Wednesday in the eastern Maarib province of Wadi Abeida.
The government says it aims to catch suspected al Qaeda gunmen believed to be behind an ambush of a military convoy on Saturday in which a commander and a soldier were killed.
Several homes were damaged, gunfights were continuing and the military was shelling locations where it believed al Qaeda militants were hiding, the Defense Ministry said in a statement that gave the tolls of eight wounded and one killed.
An elder of a tribe in the area contacted by Reuters, who asked not to be identified, said 11 civilians and eight soldiers had been wounded on Friday.
Dozens of people were wounded in the first day of fighting on Wednesday when tribesmen joined the melee, a government official said.
Al Qaeda members, many of whom hail from local tribes, have forged links with tribesmen in efforts to establish a support base in Yemen, where government control is weak in many areas outside the capital Sanaa. Maarib is home to most of Yemen’s oil fields as well as gunmen believed to belong to a resurgent wing of al Qaeda.
A government official told Reuters the home of a suspected senior al Qaeda leader was shelled early on Friday morning, also damaging the home of a nearby civilian. He did not mention any resulting deaths or injuries.
Yemen declared war on the country’s wing of al Qaeda earlier this year after it jumped to the forefront of Western security concerns when it claimed responsibility for a botched attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in December. Yemen also faces growing unrest from southern separatists and is trying to cement a fragile truce with northern Shi‘ite rebels. Two weeks ago a Yemeni mediator who was also Maarib’s deputy governor was killed in an errant air strike targeting al Qaeda, prompting clashes between his kinsmen and troops.
Reporting by Mohammed Sudam and Mohamed Ghobari; writing by Erika Solomon; editing by Peter Graff