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Death toll from air strike on Yemen wedding rises

Sanaa has been continually pounded by airstrikes [AFP].

Date of publication: 29 September, 2015

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The death toll from an air strike on a wedding party in Yemen has jumped to 131, medics said, drawing strong condemnation from the UN Secretary General.

The death toll from Monday’s air strike on a wedding party in Yemen has jumped to 131, medics said on Tuesday, in one of the deadliest attacks on civilians in Yemen's war that drew strong condemnation from the UN Secretary General.

A Saudi-led Arab coalition that has air supremacy over Yemen has strongly denied any role in the wedding party carnage, and a coalition spokesman suggested that local militias may have fired the projectiles.  

Residents said on Monday that two missiles tore through tents in the Red Sea village of Al-Wahijah, near the port of Mocha, where a local man affiliated with the Houthis was holding his wedding reception.  

A medical source at a local hospital in Maqbana, where the casualties were taken, said on Tuesday that the death toll from the attack had risen to 131, from 27 reported on Monday.  

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the airstrikes.

“The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims and a swift recovery to those injured,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

“The Secretary-General has consistently stated that there is no military solution to the conflict in Yemen. Its continuation will only bring more human suffering and destruction.”

The Mocha strike follows air raids by the Saudi-led coalition that killed 23 Houthi rebels and five civilians at a village in northwestern Yemen on Sunday.

Coalition helicopters and planes targeted a building used by the rebels at the village of Zaylaa, in Hajja province which borders Saudi Arabia, residents said.

"Houses nearby were hit and five civilians were killed as well as 23 Houthis," a resident told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He added that 17 people were wounded, but did not say whether they were civilians or Houthi fighters.

Marib dam

In the ongoing fighting on the ground, Arab media reported on Monday that Saudi-led coalition forces had reached the outskirts of the Marib dam to the east of Sanaa, and had destroyed arms depots there. 

The fighting in Marib, where coalition and government-allied troops have massed, has progressed slowly. 

The airstrikes came as the Saudi army announced Sunday that one of its generals was killed while on duty in the kingdom's Jizan province near the border with Yemen.

He is the second high-ranking Saudi military official to have been killed on the border this weekend.

A colonel and another border guard died late Friday in a gun battle after a landmine blast along the frontier with Yemen, according to the Saudi interior ministry.

In late March, a Saudi-led coalition launched a military campaign against the Houthi insurgents to stop them from taking control of the whole country.

Around 70 people, mostly soldiers, have been killed in Saudi Arabia from border shelling and skirmishes since the coalition campaign began.

Separately on Sunday, Yemen's President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi urged the Houthis to lay down their arms and resume dialogue to end Yemen's conflict, as he left for the UN General Assembly.

The embattled leader, who returned Wednesday to the southern city of Aden after a nearly six-month exile, headed to New York where he is to address the General Assembly.

"I am open to all efforts seeking a political solution," Hadi said in a letter addressed to King Salman of Saudi Arabia, where the Yemeni leader took shelter in March after rebels advanced on Aden, his last refuge at the time after having escaped house arrest in Houthi-controlled Sanaa.

Hadi also called on rebels "to end their coup, surrender weapons ... and return to the dialogue table, to implement the UN Security Council Resolution 2216," which demands the insurgents withdraw from territories they have occupied.

The rebels overran Sanaa almost unopposed in September last year and went on to expand their control zone into several regions, aided in fierce fighting against pro-Hadi forces by renegade troops loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In July, government-allied forces backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition evicted the rebels from Aden and four other southern provinces, and they have since set their sights on advancing on Sanaa.

In a letter to Hadi, King Salman congratulated Hadi on his return to Aden and pledged support to the internationally-recognised president.

"We in the coalition stand firmly, with all our strength, by your side... to protect your country," Salman wrote.

The United Nations says nearly 4,900 people, including a vast number of civilians, have been killed in Yemen's conflict since late March.

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