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Dozens killed amid airstrikes and fighting in key Yemeni city

Dozens killed amid airstrikes and fighting in key Yemeni city
Amid widespread disruption of water supplies, Yemenis wait to fill containers with donated water in Sana on Aug. 21. (Yahya Arhab / European Pressphoto Agency)

Fierce fighting in the crossroads city of Taizz in Yemen killed dozens of people, officials and aid groups said Friday, with airstrikes by a Saudi-led military coalition and shelling by Houthi rebels blamed for deaths.

A wave of airstrikes that began Thursday and continued Friday has killed more than 60 people, Yemen's Houthi-run Health Ministry said. The aid group Doctors Without Borders said at least 65 people had been killed, including 17 members of one family.

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Yemen's many-sided war has taken a ferocious turn in recent weeks, as forces loyal to the exiled government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi seek to wrest back territory from the Houthis, who surged out of northern strongholds and seized the capital, Sana, nearly a year ago.

Contested Taizz is a gateway to Sana, and many fear an even more bloody confrontation there as forces allied with Hadi continue to push their way northward. The capital has been hit this week by renewed airstrikes after a few weeks' respite.

Sunni Muslim-dominated Saudi Arabia sees the Shiite Muslim Houthis as proxies of Iran, whose influence in the region the kingdom is seeking to check. Iran denies arming the rebels but has bitterly denounced the intervention by Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies.

The Saudi-led campaign of bombardment began nearly five months ago with the stated aim of restoring Hadi's government. The death toll in fighting since then has climbed above 4,500, the United Nations said this week, with about half of those thought to be civilians.

The conflict has triggered an enormous humanitarian crisis. The World Food Program said this week that the country, already the Arab world's poorest, is on the brink of famine. The U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, said nearly 10 million children need urgent aid.

At the same time, Yemen's branch of Al Qaeda and fighters loyal to the militant group Islamic State have been drawing strength from chaotic conditions as fighting between Houthis and Hadi loyalists leave a power vacuum in many areas.

Yemen's Houthi-run news agency, Saba, said the air raid targets included Taizz's Republican Palace and a district of the city heavily populated by Houthis. The Reuters news agency quoted officials in Taizz as saying that Houthi fighters had shelled some areas of the city that had fallen to Hadi loyalists.

Exacerbating the suffering, fighting has prevented many wounded from reaching a hospital that remains open. Doctors Without Borders said only seven of the 20 hospitals in Taizz were able to receive the injured.

The air war began in March after Hadi fled his last redoubt in the southern port city of Aden in the face of a Houthi advance. The rebels held the city, Yemen's commercial center, until last month.

Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with others, have appealed to all sides to refrain from indiscriminate attacks that harm civilians. Amnesty International said in a report this week that it was likely that war crimes were being committed.

Special correspondent Al-Alayaa reported from Sana and Times staff writer King from Cairo.

Follow @laurakingLAT on Twitter for news out of the Middle East

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