ADEN (Reuters) - At least 34 people, mostly Islamist militants, were killed near the southern Yemeni city of Lawdar on Friday in clashes between government forces and an al-Qaeda linked group, official and tribal sources said.
Yemen's military launched an offensive five days ago against Islamic insurgents who attacked a military camp outside Lawdar.
The Defense Ministry said 28 militants were killed during clashes west of Lawdar, according to a statement on its website. A local official and tribal sources said three militants and three tribesmen fighting alongside the government forces were killed in separate clashes outside Lawdar.
The clashes brought the death toll since fighting erupted on Monday to nearly 200 people, according to local sources.
A local official said the Yemeni air force bombed two sites held by Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), a group affiliated with al Qaeda, but no casualties were reported.
The group seized control of a significant amount of territory in Abyan during the turmoil that led to the replacement of President Ali Abdullah Saleh by his deputy.
Saudi Arabia and the United States hope the political deal will prevent al Qaeda from getting a foothold near oil shipping routes.
The conflict with Islamists in the south is one of several challenges facing the new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who took office vowing to fight al Qaeda.
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Janet Lawrence)