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Four Yemeni rebels held

Yemeni army officials said that they had captured four armed fighters in the southern area of Abyan province as fighting intensified on Tuesday.

Last Modified: 24 Jun 2003 23:46 GMT

Yemeni army officials said that they had captured four armed fighters in the southern area of Abyan province as fighting intensified on Tuesday.

Yemeni authorities attacked
suspected hideouts on Monday

Attacks by Yemeni troops continued as they launched an operation in south Yemen using dozens of tanks, artillery, heavy machine-guns and helicopters.

The operation taking place in Jabal Hatat, 120 km northwest of the port city of Aden, is aimed at capturing a group of 80 armed fighters accused of attacking an army medical convoy on Saturday.

Fighters hidden in the rugged and largely inaccessible region consist of members from the Islamic Jihad group as well as other sympathisers of al-Qaeda, army officials said.

Islamic Jihad fighters who seek to topple the government are believed to be hiding there.

Tribal elders in the region had begun mediation efforts to convince the group to surrender and thus avoid a bloodbath, witnesses said.

On Saturday, state news agency Saba said a Yemeni army medic, his five assistants and their driver were injured when gunmen opened fire on their vehicle as it passed through the Sarar area of Abyan province.

Saba reported that the group was in the region to provide “humanitarian work”.

Tuesday's operation was the latest offensive in a spate of crackdowns on armed fighters by Yemeni authorities.

In recent years Yemen has seen several attacks on Western targets, including the year 2000 bombing of the US warship Cole and the 2002 attack on the French tanker Limburg.

Formerly under the name Aden Abyan Islamic Army, the Islamic Jihad seeks to set up an Islamic state. In 1999, its leader, Zain al Abdin Abubakr al Mihdar was executed for the kidnapping of 16 Western tourists.

While the authorities say that very few Islamic Jihad menbers are active, Abyan is considered a stronghold for other groups with links to al-Qaeda.

In a man-hunt launched after the 11 September attacks, at least two al-Qaeda suspects were captured by Yemeni authorities.

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