ADEN - At least 43 people were killed in heavy fighting in Yemen overnight and on Wednesday between supporters of exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the country’s dominant Houthi group, residents, tribal and medical sources said.

The clashes erupted ahead of UN-sponsored talks in Geneva next week aimed at ending a conflict that has drawn in Saudi Arabia and some of its allies on one side and the Iranian-backed Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh on the other. Residents and fighters said fighters opposed to the Houthis advanced from a district of Aden known as ‘workers’ island’ towards the port city’s Houthi-held international airport. They said five local fighters and 11 Houthis had died in clashes.

Eight fighters from an anti-Houthi force called the Southern Resistance were also wounded in the clashes, they said. Residents said warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition flew sorties overnight against Houthi outposts in the Bir Ahmed area north of Aden, killing 12 members of the Zaydi group.

Saudi-led air strikes on Houthi fighters in the oil-producing Marib province also killed 10 Houthis, tribal sources told Reuters. Separately, in the central city of Taiz, medical sources said five civilians had been killed when they were caught in the middle of fighting between the Houthis and local resistance fighters aligned with Hadi.

Representatives of Hadi’s government are scheduled to begin talks in Geneva with representatives of the Houthi group and Saleh’s General People’s Congress party on Sunday, amid reports of disagreements about the agenda. Mohammed Abdel-Salam, spokesman for the Houthi group, said late on Tuesday that their representation at the conference was still under discussion and had yet to be finalised. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the fighting in Yemen, which escalated sharply after Saudi-led Arab forces waded into the conflict in March to try to shore up Hadi and stop the Houthis advancing on areas held by his supporters.

Iran and the Houthis deny having any military or economic links. The Houthis say their seizure of the capital Sanaa in September and their advance south is part of a “revolution” against a corrupt government.

Humanitarian conditions have deteriorated sharply, with shortages of fresh produce, poultry, flour, fuel and other basic needs. Residents also complain that uncollected garbage, rotting under sizzling temperatures of nearly 50 degrees Celsius in Aden, has caused the spread of disease such as dengue fever. Some report dozens of deaths among the Houthis, who come from a highland region of Yemen and are unaccustomed to high temperatures, but the reports could not be immediately be verified by medical experts.

Meanwhile, three suspected Al-Qaeda members were killed in an apparent US drone strike in Yemen’s jihadist-held southeastern port city of Mukalla, a local official told AFP on Wednesday. The drone “fired four missiles at three Al-Qaeda militants” near Mukalla port late Tuesday, killing them on the spot, said the official. A “leading figure” within Al-Qaeda was among the dead, the official said, without naming him. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has exploited months of fighting in Yemen between Iran-backed rebels and their Saudi-backed rivals to consolidate its grip on Hadramawt’s provincial capital Mukalla - a city of more than 200,000.

The United States considers AQAP the extremist group’s deadliest global franchise and regularly targets its militants with armed drone strikes on Yemeni territory.

It is the only government that operates the unmanned aircraft over the impoverished country.

Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and its regional allies have been carrying out air strikes on the rebels since late March to try to restore exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to power.

In the south’s main city of Aden, intense fighting has raged since Tuesday between rebels and so-called Popular Resistance Committees, a coalition of pro-government fighters, Sunni tribes and southern separatists. At least 22 people were killed over 24 hours in the clashes and in Saudi-led air strikes, said Ali al-Ahmedi, spokesman of the Popular Resistance leadership. Most of the fighting took place near Buraiqa, a strategic sector of the city that houses an oil refinery and the port. Residents of another residential area accused the Huthi rebels and allied troops of ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh of destroying several homes in rocket shelling, but there was no immediate casualty toll.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in fighting across Yemen and air raids since March.