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Saudi-led Airstrikes Kill 120; Deadliest in Yemen Conflict

  • Associated Press

Shiite rebels known as Houthis hold up their weapons as they chant slogans during a rally against Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, July 24, 2015

Shiite rebels known as Houthis hold up their weapons as they chant slogans during a rally against Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, July 24, 2015

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes hit a residential area in a quiet Red Sea town in Yemen, killing at least 120 people in the deadliest strike against civilians since the March offensive began, security and medical officials said.

Hours later, the coalition unexpectedly announced that it would start a five-day humanitarian pause on Sunday, just before midnight.

The airstrikes late Friday hit workers' housing for a power plant in Mokha, flattening some of the buildings to the ground, the officials said. A fire erupted in the area, charring many of the corpses, including children, women and elderly people.

Wahib Mohammed, an eyewitness and area resident, said some of the bodies were torn apart by the force of the blast and buried in a mass grave on Saturday. Some of the strikes also hit nearby livestock pens, he said. Human and animal blood pooled on the ground of the surrounding area.

The deadly strike highlights growing concerns that the Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes are increasingly killing civilians as they continue to target Shiite rebels known as Houthis.

"It just shows what is the trend now of the airstrikes from the coalition," said Hassan Boucenine of the Geneva-based Doctors Without Borders. "Now, it's a house, it's a market, it's anything."

He added that many of the workers had families visiting for the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Mokha, populated largely by fisherman, had a reputation as one of the safest places in the country embroiled in war, said Boucenine.

Saudi officials could not be reached for comment, and the government's official media did not issue a statement about the deadly strike. Over the course of the war, rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have expressed concern that the Saudi-led coalition is violating laws of war and not doing enough to prevent or minimize civilian casualties.

It is not clear why the workers' housing was hit. Yemeni security officials said the closest Houthi outpost to Friday evening's strike is at least 5 kilometers (3 miles) away. Four airstrikes hit the residence after Saudi-led coalition planes launched dozens of missiles on positions of Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies in the surrounding area. The strikes in the area continued Saturday as dozens of families fled, security officials and eyewitnesses said.

A military official said the coalition had been given incorrect coordinates. He denied that the coordinates had come from anyone in the district and said he called the coalition to inform them of the high number of civilian casualties.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Boucenine, of Doctors Without Borders, said the hospital in Mokha had closed weeks prior due to a lack of medical supplies and staff. Some of the injured died en route to the hospital in the city of Hodeida, 180 kilometers (112 miles) north. The provincial capital of Taiz was inaccessible due to ongoing fighting. Boucenine said the hospital confirmed 44 fatalities, though he expected the actual toll was significantly higher.

Deif Allah al-Shamy, a Houthi leader, called Friday's strike "an ugly crime and a flagrant violation of human rights."

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