At least 20 militants killed in Yemen

At least 23 suspected Al-Qaeda militants have been killed as the army battles for control of Yemen's lawless southern and eastern regions, the Yemeni Defense Ministry said Monday.

The ministry, citing a local official in the southern province of Abyan, a militant stronghold, said the army shelled suspected Al-Qaeda positions near the city of Loder late on Sunday, killing 13 militants.

The official said the shelling forced the Islamist insurgents to retreat from positions around the city and that armed civilians who have sided with the army, known as Popular Resistance Committees, joined the attack.

At least three other militants were killed in an air strike on several vehicles in a remote desert region in the eastern province of Marib, the Defence Ministry said.

Also on Sunday, a strike by a US drone killed three more jihadists in Shabwa province, southern Yemen, witnesses said, while local sources said four others were killed when a Yemeni fighter plane raided their vehicle in Loder.

The Washington Post said last week that US drones have carried out eight air strikes in Yemen in the past four months.

The Yemeni government denies US drones carry out attacks within its borders and Washington has never formally acknowledged the use of drones against Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Yemeni troops have for months been battling Al-Qaeda's growing control over Abyan, most of which has fallen under the rule of the Islamist insurgents.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon