Three Yemeni soldiers have been killed by Al Qaeda insurgents in what military officials described as an attempt to capture the southwestern city of Hawtah, capital of Lahj province, reported the Associated Press.
Maj. Gen. Mahmoud el-Subaihi, head of the fourth military region, told AP his forces surrounded about 70 militants with tanks, as the militants hid in residential houses.
According to AP, many families have left the poor city since fighting started.
Security officials told AP that militants’ struggle to take the city was supported by incoming reinforcements from the south.
One of the three soldiers killed in the fighting was hit by sniper fire, according to AP. Officials said that four other Yemeni soldiers were wounded as well.
Ahmed Abdullah el-Mejeedi, Lahj’s Governor, said in a military and council meeting on Tuesday that inhabitants should work with authorities and report any activity from militants, reported AP.
Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nasser, Yemen’s Defense Minister, said recently that Yemen’s terrorism threat is now “limited,” and being efficiently dealt with by the military, reported Yemeni state TV.
The attack comes after the U.S. shuttered 19 diplomatic outposts in the Arab World , due to alleged communication interception between Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaead’s chief, and Al Qaeda’s leader in Yemen, suggesting an imminent attack.
Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, has also been the sight of an estimated nine U.S. drone strikes  since late July.