ADEN - Yemeni forces pressed an offensive against Al-Qaeda loyalists in the south on Wednesday, leaving six soldiers and 22 militants dead, as clashes elsewhere killed three people, officials and tribal sources said.

Troops backed by local militiamen renewed their assault on the town of Jaar, a jihadist stronghold north of the Abyan provincial capital Zinjibar, a senior commander in the south said.  Six soldiers and 12 militants were killed in "fierce clashes" on the northern and western outskirts of the town, the commander said. "We are tightening the noose on Al-Qaeda from all sides," he said, adding that the army was two kilometres (just over a mile) away from the edge of Jaar.

A further seven militants were killed in government shelling of the town, an official in Jaar said.

Further east, an air strike hit an Al-Qaeda communications centre in the Abyan town of Shaqra killing three militants, another local official said.

The latest fighting came a day after Al-Qaeda militants killed three soldiers in an assault on an army convoy ferrying supplies to the province. Yemeni forces launched an all-out offensive on May 12 aimed at reclaiming towns and cities in Abyan lost to Al-Qaeda over the past year. Since the offensive began, at least 371 people have been killed, according to an AFP tally compiled from official statements. They comprised 271 Al-Qaeda fighters, 64 military personnel, 18 local militiamen and 18 civilians.

Further north, on the outskirts of the town of Rada, southeast of the capital Sanaa, one soldier was killed and three others wounded as the army exchanged fire with jihadists who passed by an army checkpoint on their way to the home of a militant, military official Nasser Hattam said. The army then shelled Hattam's residence, wounding him and killing his wife and 25-year-old son, a tribal source told AFP.

In January, around 1,000 Al-Qaeda fighters overran Rada and helding it for nine days before withdrawing under pressure from Yemen's powerful tribes.