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Seven Yemeni troops, 17 militants killed in fighting, official says

By the CNN Wire Staff
(file photo) Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is facing calls to step down.
(file photo) Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is facing calls to step down.
  • NEW: Seven Yemeni soldiers, 17 Islamic militants killed in two days of fighting
  • NEW: "Death toll among security forces will rise in next 48 hours," medic in Aden says
  • Fighting began in Abyan province on Saturday, official says
  • There have been repeated calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down

(CNN) -- Ongoing clashes have left seven Yemeni soldiers and 17 Islamic militants dead in the past two days in the southern province of Abyan, a senior security official said Monday.

At least eight soldiers were wounded in the clashes, three of them in serious condition, said the official, who is not authorized to speak to the media and requested his name not be used. The fighting is mainly concentrated in the cities of Zinjibar and Jaar, the official said.

State-run Yemen TV reported that at least 17 al Qaeda militants have been killed in the fighting.

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

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

Journalist kicked out of Yemen
  • Yemen
  • Al Qaeda
  • Ali Abdullah Saleh

Militants seized control of Zinjibar several weeks ago, local residents said.

Airstrikes targeting militant hideouts in Zinjibar and Jaar were behind many of the deaths reported Sunday, said the security official who requested anonymity.

Medics at the Republican hospital in Aden, where injured soldiers are being taken for treatment, said at least 29 soldiers were admitted at the hospital since Saturday night, all having come from Abyan.

"Most of those admitted to the hospital were injured, but the death toll among security forces will rise over the next 48 hours," said one medic, who asked not to be named, as he is concerned for his safety.

On Sunday, 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 in a June 3 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 those signing 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 he wields considerable influence in Yemen.

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.

Unrest has consumed Yemen 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.

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

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