ADEN  - At least 29 people were killed in heavy fighting Saturday between the army and suspected Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen's southern province of Lahij, almost double an earlier toll, officials said.

"Seventeen soldiers were killed in the fighting," which erupted when the Islamist fighters attacked army positions in Mallah, a town in Lahij, an army officer on the ground told AFP.

An official in the Al-Qaeda stronghold of Jaar, southeast of Lahij, said that 12 militants were also killed.

Earlier, a military official said the clashes had left 15 people dead, including seven soldiers and eight militants.