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SANA’A: Yemen suspended a military operation against Al Qaeda-linked militants in the south yesterday while tribal leaders tried to secure the release three Western hostages the Islamists are holding, a tribal leader said.
About 8,000 soldiers have been taking part in the offensive, which was launched on Monday against on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) stronghold in the small town of Al Manaseh, in Al Bayda province south of the capital Sana’a. The army began its offensive after the militants rejected demands to release the hostages being held in the town.
The Finnish couple and an Austrian man were snatched last month by tribesmen in Sana’a. A Yemeni official said they were later sold to Al Qaeda members and transferred to Al Manaseh.
“We will meet today with both parties to discuss all issues but most importantly the release of the hostages,” Sheikh Nasser Al Aji, a tribal chief, said in a written statement about the mediation efforts with al Qaeda representatives.
Aji said the Islamist militants had demanded that the military immediately halt its attacks and retreat to base. A senior government official in Al Bayda said the military operation would resume if the mediation efforts faltered.
Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al Qirbi has assured Finland that security forces will “safely secure the release of the hostages,” Yemen’s state news agency Saba reported. Saba reported earlier that dozens of Al Qaeda-linked militants had been killed and injured during the offensive, without giving details.