|Air and naval forces took part in the fighting to back up the progress of ground forces [Reuters]
At least 10 Yemeni soldiers have been killed and nine wounded in overnight clashes with suspected al-Qaeda fighters in the southern lawless province of Abyan, a military official said on Monday.
The toll includes four soldiers killed on Sunday when troops attempted to advance towards Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, which was overrun by fighters believed to be linked to al-Qaeda in May.
Air and naval forces took part in the overnight fighting to back up the progress of ground forces that was hindered by "al-Qaeda fighters hiding in farms and rugged areas," the official, quoted by the AFP news agency, said.
Meanwhile, six suspected al-Qaeda fighters were killed on Monday in clashes with government forces which advanced on Al-Matla, 10km south of Zinjibar, said a medic at Aden's Basuhayeb military hospital.
The medic said that the army brought the bodies of the six fighters to the hospital.
A source close to the fighters said "al-Qaeda lost 26 fighters", adding that "16 bodies were entirely charred".
A medical source at a military hospital in the port city of Aden said on Sunday that three fighters were killed.
Since the end of May, fighters believed to be linked to al-Qaeda have seized control of several Abyan towns, taking advantage of the weakening of central authority amid nationwide protests against Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president.
The veteran leader has been recovering in Saudi Arabia for more than two months from bomb blast wounds.
Saleh, who has defied protests against his 33-year rule, said on Monday he was committed to holding elections for a new president, a state-run news agency reported.
A political source told the Reuters news agency that Saleh had reached an agreement with the opposition to hold the elections within three months, with power transferred to Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in the meantime.
"We have committed to the previous initiatives including the Gulf initiative and the efforts and statement of the [United Nations] Security Council and to moving towards achieving ... as soon as possible arrangements to hold general and free and direct elections for the new president of the republic," Saleh said in the statement posted on the SABA news agency's website.
Saudi Arabia had led the Gulf Co-operation Council plan to end Yemen's political deadlock by easing Saleh out of office, but he backed out of signing the deal three times at the last minute, leaving Yemen in political limbo.
Activists, saying the polls will not be free and fair, turned out by the thousands in the capital Sanaa on Monday.