Sanaa:  Heavy clashes overnight between al-Qaeda-linked militants and the Yemeni military in the country's south have killed 63 people, bringing the two-day death toll in the fighting to 127, army officials said on Tuesday.

The latest fighting points to escalating hostilities between the government and militants linked to the terror network who have sought to take advantage of the turmoil roiling the country since a popular uprising began early last year against longtime authoritarian leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The militants seized control of towns in the lawless south and staged attacks against government troops there and elsewhere in the impoverished Arab nation.

The military officials said the fighting that broke out in the town of Lawder in Abyan province on Monday morning spilled over into today, with the army shelling militant hideouts in an effort to prevent them from sending reinforcements.

They said 56 militants, four soldiers and three tribal fighters were killed overnight and on Tuesday morning. Fighting also erupted on Tuesday along the border of Shabwa and Marib provinces, where militants ambushed an Army post. Eight soldiers and three militants were killed in that attack, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media.

Al-Qaeda was once present in Lawder, but in July residents drove them out. A few months later al-Qaeda was blamed for planting a roadside bomb that killed two civilians there, and, as Wednesday's attack demonstrates, they continue to try to regain their foothold.