At least three members of the Yemeni government army were killed when they were ambushed by al-Qaeda in the southern province of Abyan on Saturday, an officer told China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.

Several soldiers were also wounded in the jihadists’ ambush targeting soldiers on routine patrol, according to the same source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Tensions have been escalating in Abyan of late, as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has stepped up its operations, taking advantage of ongoing instability due to the war that has ravaged the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country since 2014.

The jihadist group has claimed responsibility for attacks on government forces — as well as their rivals, the Shiite Houthi rebels, who are seen as close to Iran — members of the intelligence services and military infrastructure.

Government forces, backed by a Saudi-led military alliance, have conducted several large-scale operations against the AKP. However, they have not succeeded in eliminating the threat of its jihadists, who operate with strongholds in the mountainous areas of Abyan and other provinces in the south.

The war in the poorest Arab state since 2014 has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, according to the UN, uprooted millions of civilians and left two-thirds of the population desperate — needing humanitarian aid just to survive — as the situation remains dangerously close to famine on a massive scale.

A UN-brokered ceasefire agreement that came into force in April 2022 has reduced hostilities. Although it expired in October, as the parties did not reach an agreement to renew it, the fighting has not been widespread so far, taking place sporadically.

While Riyadh and Tehran announced last month that they had agreed — brokered by China — to restore diplomatic relations after years of open hostility, it is expected to boost efforts to restore peace in Yemen.