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Source: Yemeni troops fight Islamists for control of province

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Bodies of the dead are left rotting in the streets, a local security official says
  • NEW: Militants seize heavy weapons from government forces, local people say
  • At least a dozen militants and 2 government troops are killed, a source says
  • More than 100 leaders call on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down

(CNN) -- At least a dozen Islamic militants and two Yemeni troops died overnight as Yemen fights to wrest control of Abyan province from militants, a senior security official in the southern province told CNN Sunday.

Qasim Bin Hadi, the head of security in Zinjibar in Abyan, said that the city has turned into a ghost town and that clashes between government forces and al Qaeda militants have been nonstop the past two days.

"Bodies of dead people are everywhere in the streets," said Bin Hadi.

Separately, more than 100 influential religious and tribal leaders said President Ali Abdullah Saleh was not able to lead the country and should step down.

"Saleh was injured seriously during the assassination attempt on his life. We call on Saleh to hand over powers to his vice president Abdu Rabu Mansoor Hadi, to save the country from further clashes and bloodshed," said the statement, which was circulated to the media.

Saleh and other senior officials were injured June 3 in an attack on the mosque at the presidential palace. Saleh is being treated in Saudi Arabia. Officials loyal to him have said he will return when he has recovered.

Among the clerics who signed the statement was Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani, Yemen's most prominent cleric. The United States considers al-Zindani a terrorist, accused in 2004 of supplying weapons to al Qaeda. But in Yemen, he wields considerable influence.

The influential signatories are the latest in a growing number of powerful voices seeking Saleh's ouster and demanding a transitional government be formed as quickly as possible.

Yemen has been consumed by unrest for months as protesters have demanded an end to Saleh's rule.

In recent weeks, government troops have battled both anti-government tribal forces and Islamic militants, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Militants seized control of the town of Zinjibar several weeks ago, local people in the southern city told CNN.

Many of the deaths overnight were caused by airstrikes targeting militant hideouts in Zinjibar and Jaar, another city in the province, the security official said.

"Clashes are still continuing," said the official, "and the government has sent hundreds of additional troops to the area in an effort to retake the province from the militants."

The official asked not to be named because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

The official added that at least four soldiers have been injured in clashes over the past 24 hours.

Bin Hadi, the head of security in Zinjibar, said the bodies of the dead -- many of them civilians -- "rot in the streets of Zinjibar.

"Clashes are not in one place in the city, they are in every corner. The government is doing everything in its power to rid the province from the terrorists," he said.

According to residents in Zinjibar, militants have succeeded in seizing a large number of heavy artillery from the government during the clashes the past two days.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom and journalist Hakim Almasmari contributed to this report.