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Airstrikes kill 120 in Yemen hours before Saudi-led coalition announces truce

Published 26/07/2015

Shiite rebels known as Houthis hold up their weapons as they chant slogans during a rally against Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa (AP)
Shiite rebels known as Houthis hold up their weapons as they chant slogans during a rally against Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa (AP)

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

Hours later, the coalition unexpectedly announced that it would start a five-day humanitarian pause.

The airstrikes late on Friday hit workers' housing for a power plant in Mokha, flattening some of the buildings to the ground, officials said.

Wahib Mohammed, a witness and area resident, said some of the bodies were buried in a mass grave on Saturday.

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 Doctors Without Borders. "Now, it's a house, it's a market, it's anything."

He said 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 Mr Boucenine.

He said the hospital in Mokha had closed weeks before due to a lack of medical supplies and staff. Some of the injured died en route to the hospital in the city of Hodeida, 112 miles north.

During the war, 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 minimise civilian casualties.

It is not clear why the workers' housing was hit. Yemeni security officials said the closest Houthi outpost to the strike is at least three 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.

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

Houthi rebels have also been criticised by rights groups for causing civilian casualties. Houthis and their allies randomly shelled a town earlier this week outside of Aden after losing control of some the port city's neighbourhoods, killing nearly 100 people, Doctors Without Borders said.

Since March 26, at least 1,693 civilians have been killed in the Yemen fighting, with 3,829 wounded, the UN said this week. It says civilians have been killed by mortar fire and ground fighting though "the majority of the casualties are reported to have been caused by air strikes".

The fighting in Yemen pits the Houthis and troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh against southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants and loyalists of exiled president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is now in Saudi Arabia.

The UN human rights office said this week that "since 17 June, there has been further destruction of civilian infrastructure, with at least 36 buildings, including hospitals, schools, court houses, power generation facilities, and communications institutions partially or totally damaged".

Less than a day after the strike, the Saudi-led coalition announced it will start a five-day humanitarian pause in Yemen today just before midnight.

It said the pause came as a result of a request by Mr Hadi to Saudi's King Salman.

It said the coalition will cease military operations, but that it will respond should Houthi rebels or their allies conduct any military actions or movements.

The truce is intended to give pause to months of punishing fighting in the war-torn impoverished Gulf nation and allow for the dispersing of much-needed humanitarian aid.

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