ADEN // Yemeni forces killed 13 extremists militants and arrested two others in overnight raids in Mukalla district, while several more died in a blast hours later, the military and residents said on Sunday.
Two soldiers were killed and nine injured in the operations launched on Saturday night, which were backed by the Saudi-led military coalition supporting the government.
Brig Gen Ahmed bin Braik, the governor of Hadramout province, said the military targeted Al Qaeda and ISIL fighters in Rawkab, Bwaish and Rabwat Al Huhandiseen areas around Mukalla city, the provincial capital.
“The residents helped the military forces yesterday night, and this is a clear message that Hadramout’s citizens are not supporters of Al Qaeda and its sisters,” Brig Gen bin Braik said.
Residents in Rawkab reported a huge explosion at about noon on Sunday in a house occupied by Al Qaeda militants.
"The explosion was from a car bomb that was being preparing by Al Qaeda fighters in the yard of a house," Mohammed Al Sharafi, a journalist based in Mukalla, told The National.
“There are definitely casualties among the Al Qaeda fighters but its not clear yet how many.”
He said Rawkab was one of the main areas in Mukalla district infiltrated by Al Qaeda and which the military had still not cleared of militants.
The military, backed by coalition forces, forced Al Qaeda fighters from Mukalla last month, a year of the extremist militants seized control of the south-eastern port city.
Since then there have been a number of militant attacks on civilians, officials and military camps in and around the city. Two of the deadliest – a suicide bombing on May 15 that killed 40 men queuing to join the security forces and bombing and gun attack at a naval base three days earlier that left 15 soldiers dead – were claimed by ISIL.
“Both Al Qaeda and ISIL are working shoulder to shoulder in Hadramout, as the ISIL fighters used to be fighters with Al Qaeda,” said a political analyst based in the province who asked not to be identified.
“The Yemeni army and the coalition forces know that they have not liberated the whole Mukalla district from Al Qaeda. They know the strongholds of these fighters in Mukalla, but they have not yet pushed them out,” he said, adding that they were still securing the city centre.
He said most residents of Mukalla were opposed to Al Qaeda and ISIL but they cannot challenge these groups because they are heavily armed.
Both groups have taken advantage of the government’s war against Houthi rebels and their allies to expand their presence in Yemen. However, with a ceasefire in place as the two sides hold UN-mediated peace talks in Kuwait, the government and coalition forces have turned their sights on the extremists in recent weeks.
On Sunday, the government delegation resumed negotiations after suspending its participation last week over the rebels’ refusal to recognise the legitimacy of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.
The United Nations said Mr Hadi agreed to resume the talks after a meeting with UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in Doha on Saturday.
The UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said the truce that began April 10 has largely held.
“The cessation of hostilities is holding around 80 to 90 per cent,” Mr Cheikh Ahmed said at the Doha Forum conference on Sunday. “The people of Yemen feel there is a cessation of hostilities.”
The drop in violence has been crucial in ensuring much-needed aid can make its way to areas affected by the fighting, he said.
Mr Cheikh Ahmed said he hoped that most of the thorniest issues in the conflict have been discussed during the Kuwait talks.
“We are not at square zero ... We are in fact making incredible progress,” he said when asked during the forum about the slow pace of the negotiations. He expressed hope that a resolution to the conflict is “very close”, though he was quick to add a note of caution.
“I cannot guarantee you an outcome. You can be very close, but then because of the position of the parties they may fail,” he said.
The peace talks are aimed at ending the conflict based on a UN Security Council resolution that calls for the rebels to withdraw from all cities, hand over weapons, and release political detainees.
* With additional reporting from Associated Press