Between 8,000 and 12,000 civilians have fled their homes in the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa because of heavy fighting between government forces and suspected Al-Qaeda militants, according to Yemen's Red Crescent. Three Al-Qaeda militants and two soldiers have died in the clashes that erupted Sunday in the town Al-Hawta.
The town seems to have been shelled and houses and two mosques seem to have been destroyed.Those displaced have fled to nearby towns or provinces, the majority staying with relatives in highly cramped conditions, the Red Crescent said in its report, calling for urgent food and medical supplies.The clashes seem to be rather similar to the battle in Lawdar (Abyan province) last month when thousands also fled their homes.
Al-Qaeda said Monday it is holding a senior security officer and gave the government 48 hours to release two militants. The group said it is holding Saada province's deputy director of political security, Colonel Ali Mohammed Saleh Al-Hussam, who was kidnapped near his home on 26 August.
What prompted the fighting is not known. But it seems somewhat suspicious that it coincides with a visit of president Obma's top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and US discussions about an aid package for Yemen. Brennan visited Yemen Monday and discussed cooperation in the fight against Al-Qaeda, the White House said. Brennan met President Ali Abdullah Saleh and delivered a letter from Obama expressing US support for a "unified, stable, democratic and prosperous Yemen," National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.
The fighting also coincides with a meeting of the international Friends of Yemen group, which was set up in January to assist the country with its multiple problems. The group is due to hold its first official meeting in New York on Friday.