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Al-Qaeda ousted from key town in south Yemen: Officials

Soldiers and police drove the militants out of Huta, 30km north of Aden, and arrested 49 people suspected supporters
Yemeni army troops take position over the hills overlooking the southern town of Huta in 2011 (AFP)

Pro-government forces expelled al-Qaeda fighters from a provincial capital close to Yemen's second city of Aden on Friday, according to security officials, as fighting in the country's civil war continued despite a putative truce.

Soldiers and police drove the militants out of Huta, 30km north of Aden, and arrested 49 suspected supporters there, added the officials.

A ceasefire has been in place in Yemen since last Sunday, but fighting has continued in pockets across the country.

At least 35 pro-government fighters were killed during the first three days of the truce, according to military sources. 

The ceasefire is meant to lay the groundwork for peace talks set to take place in Kuwait next week. 

Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-dominated Arab allies back the Yemeni government in the conflict, while Shia Iran supports the Houthis. The latter, who have been fighting alongside former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have seized the capital Sanaa and other regions.

Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have been exploiting the chaos caused by the war to strengthen their grip on southern Yemen.

Forces loyal to President Abd Rabbuh Hadi have launched operations against militants in recent weeks, backed by the firepower of a mainly Arab coalition.

A military official said the operation to liberate Huta was "designed to secure Aden," where Hadi's government has temporarily based itself.

A car bomb exploded on Friday in the port city near a building housing the foreign ministry, without causing casualties, security sources said.

Al-Qaeda controls several key southern regions with the Islamic State (IS) militant group also expanding its presence, especially in the south. 

Aden governor Aidarus al-Zubaidi told AFP recently that allied forces were concentrating on liberating Huta, but also the town of Zinjibar and were aiming to "push al-Qaeda militants from the edges of Aden".

US drone strikes have also been stepped up against the group in recent weeks, with drones killing five suspected al-Qaeda members late last month. 

The civil war has killed more than 6,300 people since March 2015 and worsened already dire conditions in the impoverished country, with more than 80 percent of the population now feared to be on the brink of famine.

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