Saudi coalition denies targeting Yemeni wedding party

Published September 29th, 2015 - 06:58 GMT

A local official and residents said at least 27 people, mostly women and children, were killed Monday in an airstrike on a wedding party in southwest Yemen, but a Saudi-led coalition that has air supremacy over the country strongly denied any role. A coalition of Arab states has been attacking the Iranian-allied Houthi group across Yemen since March, trying to dislodge it from areas it has seized since last year and to restore President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi.

Residents said two missiles tore through tents used by a man affiliated with the Houthi group for his wedding reception in the village of Al-Wahijah, near the Red Sea port city of Al-Mokha.

A resident said 12 women, eight children and seven men had died in the attack. A local official put the death toll at 30. Several other people were taken to hospital.

Coalition spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri told Reuters: “There have been no air operations by the coalition in that area for three days. This is totally false news.

“The coalition knows its responsibility and will always acknowledge a mistake if we make it. Take into consideration the chaotic situation in Yemen, with several armed elements and forces active around the country. Also, people sometimes cannot distinguish between canon, mortar and Katyusha [missiles].”

It was not the case that “every explosion that happens in Yemen” was caused by the coalition, he said.

Al-Wahijah is located in Taiz province, which the Houthis captured in March as they began advancing on the southern port city of Aden, where Hadi was based before he was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, the US ambassador to the top UN rights body said the United States supports Dutch efforts to create an international fact-finding mission on human rights abuses in war-torn Yemen, setting the stage for tough diplomatic negotiation on the issue with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in coming days.

The Dutch proposal to the UN Human Rights Council, which could expose abuses on all sides of the war, follows the submission of another one co-sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Yemen that does not seek an international mission. The US has backed a blistering Saudi-led campaign of airstrikes in Yemen, and Ambassador Keith Harper told the Associated Press Monday that the US hopes for a compromise.

The Dutch want the office of UN Human Rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein to send a mission to report on possible abuses and conflict-related crimes in Yemen.

The council now faces separate votes on the two proposals before its three-week session ends Friday, although diplomatic efforts are under way to overcome differences, officials said.

In a text message to the AP, Harper said the US supports the Dutch proposal, including the involvement of Zeid’s office. The Saudi and Dutch delegations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The council has no power to compel countries to act, but its actions can shine a spotlight on human rights violations.

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