By Mohamed Sudam
SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, facing an increasingly entrenched uprising against his rule, on Monday welcomed a U.N. Security Council resolution urging him to sign a Gulf-mediated power transfer plan, the state news agency reported.
It was Saleh's first response to the United Nations Security Council measure last week calling on him to adopt the blueprint drafted by neighboring Gulf states for parliamentary and presidential elections after a new opposition-led cabinet is formed and Saleh relinquishes the presidency.
Saleh has already rejected the plan three times despite escalating protests against his 33-year-long autocratic rule, saying he would only transfer power into "safe hands."
"The Yemeni president ... expressed his readiness to sit down immediately at the dialogue table with the Joint Meeting Parties (opposition parties) and its partners to complete the dialogue over the operational mechanism for the (Gulf) initiative as quickly as possible and to reach the final signing of the initiative and its immediate implementation, leading to early presidential elections on a date agreed upon by all," said a statement carried by the Yemeni news agency SABA.
Ruling Yemen since 1978 through a civil war and rebel movements, Saleh has clung to power despite an assassination attempt that sent him abroad for three months for medical care, breakaway generals and nine months of street protests.
More than a dozen people have died in the past week, the latest wave of violence in Yemen as forces loyal to Saleh clash with soldiers siding with protesters. Civilians and demonstrators have often been caught in the crossfire.
Two people, including a child, were killed in the city of Taiz on Monday when a mortar shell landed on their house, witnesses said.
Inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Yemen's loose coalition of student protesters, tribal leaders and dissident army factions has been pressing him to leave since January.
The interior ministry said on its website opposition "militia" had attacked an army base and an office of the state petroleum company.
In Yemen's turbulent south, two Yemeni soldiers were shot dead on Monday and three suspected Islamist militants were killed the night before in two sets of clashes in Aden, security and tribal sources said.
"Armed groups driving a car opened fire with machine guns on a group of government troops charged with guarding commercial warehouses," a security source told Reuters.
"Security forces exchanged fire for a short period of time with the armed groups leading to the death of two and the injury of two ... The armed groups fled to an unknown place," the source added. Eyewitnesses said the fighting had also involved hand grenades and that a government car had been burned.
In recent weeks armed groups linked to al Qaeda have targeted the port city of Aden, with suicide attacks on high-level officials in the army and government.
The neighboring province of Abyan has been in a state of virtual anarchy since militants suspected of ties to al Qaeda began seizing cities in the coastal region several months ago.
(Additional reporting By Mohamed Mukhashaf; Writing by Reed Stevenson; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Roger Atwood)