SANAA - A suspected Saudi-led air strike killed at least 28 people at a wedding in a rebel-held town in Yemen, witnesses and rebels said Thursday, even as UN peace efforts made headway.
The Saudi-led coalition, under mounting criticism over the civilian death toll of its bombing campaign against Iran-backed rebels, denied any involvement in the latest attack.
It was the second alleged coalition air strike on a Yemeni wedding party in just over a week.
The new raid hit a house where dozens of people were celebrating on Wednesday evening in the town of Sanban in Dhamar province, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of the capital Sanaa, residents said.
“Coalition warplanes launched the attack. The house was completely destroyed,” said resident Taha al-Zuba. “Warplanes were heard in the area ahead of the attack.”
The rebels’ Almasirah television said on Twitter that the wedding was hit by “aggression warplanes”, referring to the coalition. Medical sources said 28 people were killed, raising an earlier toll of 13 dead. Another 10 people were wounded, the sources said.
Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri said the allies did not launch any air strikes in the vicinity. “We did not conduct any operation in Dhamar... No strikes there, definitely,” he told AFP.
A suspected coalition strike killed at least 131 civilians at a wedding last month near the Red Sea city of Mokha, which the UN said may have been the deadliest single attack since March. The coalition denied involvement.
The latest strike came as the United Nations announced that Huthi rebels, who control the capital and much of central and northern Yemen, had accepted a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to the seven-month conflict.
The Huthis’ refusal to agree to abide by Resolution 2216 passed in April — demanding their withdrawal from territory they seized since overrunning the capital in September 2013 — had stymied previous peace efforts.
President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled to neighbouring Saudi Arabia in March but whose forces have since recaptured southern provinces with the support of coalition ground troops, had refused to join UN-brokered peace talks until the rebels signed up. But UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced late on Wednesday that both the rebels and their allies confirmed they were willing to enter talks based on the UN resolution. “This is an important step,” he said. The Huthi rebels, whose heartland is in the mountains of the far north, have been backed by renegade troops still loyal to Hadi’s ousted predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Saleh’s political party also announced that it had accepted the UN peace plan following secret talks with UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
But a member of Hadi’s delegation, Abdulwahab al-Homayqani, said the rebels “did not announce their commitment to implement UN Resolution 2216” demanding their withdrawal.
Rights groups have repeatedly criticised the coalition’s strikes in Yemen, saying they have hit areas that don’t contain military targets.
In late August, an air strike hit a bottled water factory in the northern province of Hajja, killing 17 civilians and 14 rebels.
Warplanes in July struck staff residences at a power plant in the Red Sea port of Mokha, killing 65 civilians, while an April raid on a dairy plant in Hodeida further north left 35 civilians dead.
The rebels too have come under heavy criticism for “indiscriminate” shelling of civilian-populated areas.
A Western-backed resolution calling for a UN investigation into abuses committed during the Yemen conflict was withdrawn due to protests from Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch said last week.
A fresh challenge for the coalition emerged this week after the Islamic State group claimed an attack on Yemen’s government and coalition bases in main southern city Aden.
Fifteen loyalist and coalition troops were killed and several ministers suffered minor wounds.
The attack, which IS said involved four suicide bombers, was the first carried out by the jihadist group against the Yemeni government and its coalition backers.
Previous attacks targeted mosques frequented by the rebels.
On Thursday, gunmen on a motorbike shot dead pro-Hadi army General Jamal al-Saqqaf near the temporary government headquarters, a security official said.
Another security source said an official working for a court specialising in terrorism cases died after a similar attack in Aden.
The United Nations says around 5,000 people have been killed in the conflict in impoverished Yemen over the past seven months, many of them civilians.