ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) - At least 32 people, including 23 al Qaeda-linked militants were killed in Yemen, officials and residents said on Tuesday, as the government pressed ahead with a new U.S.-backed offensive against insurgents in the south of the country.

Washington has stepped up its drone attacks in Yemen since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office in February, and the Pentagon said last week it had recently resumed sending military trainers to the Arab state.

A growing Islamist insurgency in Yemen is of serious concern to the United States and oil exporter Saudi Arabia, who both fear that political infighting could give al Qaeda's regional wing a foothold near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.

Residents and local officials said heavy fighting erupted overnight between the Yemeni army and militants in an area called al-Jabalain in the south of the country, as the army tried to advance on the militant-held city of Jaar.

The clashes continued until early on Tuesday, killing at least eight militants and one Yemeni soldier, they said, adding the army had captured two Somali Islamist fighters.

Separately, an airstrike by Yemeni warplanes killed six civilians by mistake in Jaar, a city in Abyan province and a stronghold of al Qaeda fighters, residents said. Another strike hit two suspected militant vehicles and killed its seven passengers, they added.

Near the southern town of Lawdar eight militants and two army-allied tribal fighters were killed in clashes at an area called Jebel Yasuf, 10 km (6 miles) from Lawdar, a tribal source said. The army and tribesman regained control of Jebel Yasuf, the source added.

(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Rania El Gamal)




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