ADEN (AFP) - Ongoing battles between Al-Qaeda suspects and Yemen's army near the restive southern city of Zinjibar killed five soldiers and two Al-Qaeda suspects, military and medical sources said Monday.

"Five soldiers were killed and seven wounded in late Sunday battles" between the army and Al-Qaeda-linked militants, a military official told AFP. The army fired artillery rounds on the militants' hideouts on Zinjibar's outskirts.

Medics confirmed the toll, adding that two of the extremists were also killed in the fighting.

The Islamist extremist network has turned 11 months of political turmoil in the country to its advantage, using the popular revolt against President Ali Abdullah Saleh to bolster its presence in southern and eastern Yemen.

Militants linked to Al-Qaeda control several regions and towns including Abyan provincial capital Zinjibar, where they clash regularly with government forces and tribal auxiliaries. Government forces are also sometimes supported by US drone strikes in their battle against the Partisans of Sharia, the Al-Qaeda-linked insurgent group that took over most of Zinjibar in May.

The United States is considering Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's request to visit, but would only grant him entry for "legitimate" medical treatment, a senior US official said Monday.