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Officials say Yemen's army has engaged in heavy gun battles with Islamist militants linked to Al-Qaeda near of the southern town of Jaar.

The fighting on June 7 was part of a month-long offensive to retake several towns seized by rebels.

Witnesses said at least 20 Islamist fighters from Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, were killed.

Five tribesmen fighting alongside government forces also died.

Yemen's military is trying to recapture towns in the southern province of Abyan that were seized by the militants last year during a popular uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saleh formally stepped down in February.

In support of the army campaign, the United States has stepped up drone strikes against suspected militants.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP
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