Airstrikes devastated a wedding party in southern Yemen on Monday, killing and injuring dozens, witnesses said. Medics put the death toll as high as 135, including many women and children, in the latest bombardment reported to have caused large numbers of civilian deaths and injuries.
The Saudi-led air offensive in Yemen, now in its seventh month, has killed at least 3,500 people, perhaps half of them civilians, according to aid groups.
Some witnesses suggested that tents put up to accommodate guests at wedding festivities outside the Red Sea port of Mokha might have been mistaken for military encampments of pro-government troops and their allies. At least two tents were hit in a series of strikes.
The attack, one of a string involving large numbers of civilian casualties, came as the Yemen conflict was under scrutiny at the United Nations. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon blamed all combatants for demonstrating a “disregard for human life,” but said most fatalities and injuries were being caused by the campaign of airstrikes that began in March.
The Saudi-led military coalition is attempting to dislodge Shiite Muslim Houthi rebels from a wide swath of Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country. But it has caused massive destruction of infrastructure and caused military experts to question the air campaign’s tactics.
The coalition, which seeks to restore the rule of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, regained control over the summer of the key southern port of Aden, paving the way for Hadi’s return to the country, but Houthis still hold sway in Sana, the capital.
The groom in the wedding festivities in the village of Wahijah, outside Mokha, was affiliated with the Houthis, witnesses said. The rebels surged out of northern strongholds last year and seized Sana in September 2014.
The Houthi advance on Aden, the main commercial port, caused Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia, and prompted the coalition’s military offensive. Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, Shiite Iran, has been bitterly critical of the Yemen offensive.
Those tensions were aggravated by the deaths last week of more than 130 Iranian pilgrims in a crowd crush outside the holy city of Mecca. Iranian officials have said the Saudi monarchy, the guardian of Islam’s holiest sites, has failed to safeguard more than 2 million Muslims who make the annual pilgrimage, or hajj.
Al-Alayaa is a special correspondent. Staff writer Laura King contributed to this report from Cairo.