Al-Qaeda militants began withdrawing Thursday from two cities in Yemen's southern Abyan province following tribal mediation to spare destruction, tribal sources said.
"Hundreds of Al-Qaeda fighters have begun to hand over to provincial authorities public buildings which they controlled" in Abyan provincial capital Zinjibar and the nearby city of Jaar, a tribal mediator told AFP.
A tribal elder involved in the mediation said their departure comes amid pressure from residents who wanted to spare their cities from being destroyed like other southern towns which the militants once controlled.
This comes after government troops backed by air and ground support from a Saudi-led coalition launched last month a widespread operation against militants in south and southeastern Yemen.
The tribal mediator said the withdrawal will be completed within a week.
But he warned that the militants could stop the operation if they come under attack.
The militants will be leaving with their weapons and are expected to pull back to a mountainous region which separates Abyan from the provinces of Shabwa and Baida, tribal sources said.
The militants last month fled the key southeastern city of Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt province, and other coastal areas, due to the government offensive.
In a statement released Wednesday, the militants threatened to attack the homes of officials and soldiers who took part in the offensive to drive them out of Mukalla.
Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is regarded by Washington as the network's most dangerous branch.
It had taken advantage of the government's war against Shia rebels to spread its presence in the south.