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6 Killed, UN Heritage Site Damaged in Yemen


People search for survivors under the rubble of houses destroyed by Saudi airstrikes in the old city of Sana'a, Yemen, June 12, 2015.

Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen killed at least six civilians Friday and destroyed historic buildings in Sana'a, and the United Nations delayed peace talks that were due to open in Geneva on Sunday.

Reports from the U.N. cultural agency said the latest airstrikes destroyed ancient multistory homes, towers and gardens, some of them up to 2,500 years old, in the capital's Old City neighborhood known as Al-Qasimi.

UNESCO's director condemned the destruction of the historic buildings, which have been recognized by the agency as a World Heritage Site. Friday's airstrikes were the latest in a series of raids that have damaged or razed historic buildings, museums and archeological sites, both in Sana'a and in other parts of the country.

A coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia has been conducting an air campaign in Yemen, the Middle East’s most impoverished country, for more than 11 weeks. Bombing raids have targeted ethnic Houthi insurgents, the dominant group among the rebels, who are supported by Iran. The rebels' intent is to bring back to power the exiled president and support local fighters nationwide.

The Arab coalition has said its strikes are aimed only at military targets, but the World Health Organization estimates the conflict has killed more than 2,500 people and wounded 11,000 others.

"I am profoundly distressed by the loss of human lives as well as by the damage inflicted on one of the world's oldest jewels of Islamic urban landscape," UNESCO's director-general, Irina Bokova, said in a statement. Photographs showing historic structures reduced to rubble were "shocking," she added.

U.N.-sponsored talks were scheduled to begin Sunday in Geneva in an effort to find a solution to the crisis, which has left 80 percent of the population in need for some form of humanitarian aid. But officials announced late Friday that one of the Yemeni delegations due to take part would arrive late, so consultations could not begin until Monday.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his special representative for Yemen will be in Geneva on Sunday, a U.N. spokesperson said, but "exact times and procedures" for the consultations will not be announced until then.