Suspected al-Qaida-linked militants stormed a Yemeni army garrison along the southern coast in Lahij province Saturday, setting off fierce clashes that left at least 30 people dead on both sides — most of them government soldiers.
Yemeni officials say air force planes bombed militant positions following the attack, forcing the militants to retreat.
The area borders Abyan province, an al-Qaida stronghold. Recently, the militants have made increasingly bold incursions into surrounding areas. On Friday they blew up a natural gas pipeline in the south, calling it retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that destroyed a vehicle carrying several of their members.
The Ansar al-Sharia militant group has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack. Earlier this month, the group claimed responsibility for the death of an American teacher in southern city of Taiz.
In another development Saturday, relief organizations launched a massive vaccination campaign in Yemen to combat a measles outbreak that has infected more than 4,000 people.
The U.N. says measles has killed more than 170 children since the outbreak began last year.
Geert Cappelaere, the UNICEF representative in Yemen, told VOA that children are especially vulnerable.
“In a country like Yemen, an outbreak of measles is an incredible threat to the lives and survival of children not only because of the lack of immunization but also because of the incredible high levels of malnutrition.”
Cappelaere, who commented from the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, said unrest from anti-government protests over the past year also contributed to the measles surge because it led to a decrease in the availability of social services.
“We saw in 2011, in certain parts of the country, a drop by 40 to 60 percent even of the number of children immunized.”
UNICEF and the World Health Organization are taking part in the second phase of an immunization program targeting eight million Yemeni children.