zinjibar.jpg
Photograph: Google maps

Forces loyal to Yemen's internationally recognized government have recaptured a southern provincial capital from al-Qaeda militants, military officials said Sunday.

Troops loyal to President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi and local militiamen took the town of Zinjibar, east of Hadi's temporary capital Aden, after minor clashes, the Yemeni officials, who declined to be quoted by name, said.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had returned to Zinjibar and the nearby town of Jaar in June, a month after withdrawing under an agreement mediated by local tribal leaders.

The militant organization has expanded its influence in southern Yemen, taking advantage of a civil war that pits the mainly Shiite rebels, who control most of the north of the country, against Hadi's government and a range of other rivals.

The military officials said that aircraft from a Saudi-led alliance backing Hadi supported the move on Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province.

Hadi telephoned the governor of Abyan and the regional army commander to congratulate them on the "return of security and stability to Abyan province," the official government news agency reported.

Yemen's conflict has intensified in recent weeks, with the United Nations putting peace talks in Kuwait City on hold after the Houthis declined to sign peace proposals agreed by the government.

Ten children were killed Saturday in an attack on a school in Saada province, the heartland of the Houthi movement, according to international medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF).

UN children's agency UNICEF put the death toll at seven, and said it was due to an airstrike.

Neither organization assigned blame for the incident, but the Saudi-led coalition is the main force carrying airstrikes in northern Yemen. The US has also carried out strikes against suspected al-Qaeda militants.

Houthi spokesman Muhammad Abdulsalam blamed the coalition for the attack.

UNICEF said last week that at least 1,121 children have been killed in Yemen since March 2015, noting that the counts were only what the agency had been able to verify and that the actual toll might be much higher.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said earlier this month that he still had "very strong concerns" about the protection of children in the Yemeni conflict despite information from the coalition on measures taken to guarantee their safety.

In June, Ban controversially removed the Saudi-led coalition from the annex of a UN report flagging entities that have killed and maimed children in conflicts.

He subsequently said that the decision had been taken under "undue pressure," including threats from member states to pull funding from various UN agencies in response to the listing.

On Friday, British charity Oxfam, which is highly active in Yemen, said that the coalition had destroyed the main bridge on the highway from the port of Hudaida to Sana'a.

The road carried 90 per cent of World Food programme aid to the capital, Oxfam country director Sajjad Mohammad Sajid said.

"Its destruction threatens to leave many more people unable to feed themselves, worsening an already catastrophic situation in the country," he warned.

According to the UN, some 14.4 million Yemenis currently suffer from food insecurity.

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