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Saudi-led coalition kills 'twice as many' Yemen civilians as all other forces: UN

The UN says 3,218 civilians have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition began its air campaign a year ago
Yemeni women survey the damage after a Saudi-led air strike on a school and a bowling club in Sanaa last month (AFP)

The United Nations on Friday decried the "carnage" caused by recent air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, saying the alliance was responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths in the conflict.

"Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of air strikes," UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said in a statement, expressing outrage at one of the deadliest air strikes on a busy market this week.

Since the Saudi-led coalition began its air campaign in Yemen a year ago, the UN rights office said it had tallied just under 9,000 civilian casualties in the conflict, including 3,218 killed. More than 3,000 fighters on both sides are also thought to have been killed during the war.

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia said that it planned to scale back military operations in Yemen, but it was not immediately clear when the withdrawal would take place or what it would entail. Officials said the coalition would continue to provide air support to Yemen's government and its allies.

In its comments on Friday, the UN condemned "the repeated failure of the coalition forces to take effective actions to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, and to publish transparent, independent investigations into those that have already occurred."

Zeid decried that coalition air strikes had hit markets, hospitals, clinics, schools, factories, wedding parties and hundreds of private residences in villages, towns and cities.

"Despite plenty of international demarches, these awful incidents continue to occur with unacceptable regularity," he said, warning that "we are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the coalition".

Zeid voiced particular alarm at two air strikes on a market this week in northern Yemen's Houthi-held Hajja province.

On Thursday, the UN put the death toll from those strikes at 119, and Zeid's office said on Friday 106 of those killed in the crowded market were civilians, including 24 children. 

"The carnage caused by two air strikes on the Al Khamees market ... was one of the deadliest incidents since the start of the conflict a year ago," Zeid said.

Meanwhile, his staff on the ground "could find no evidence of any armed confrontation or significant military objects in the area at the time of the attack," besides a small checkpoint 250 metres away, the statement said.

That attack came just weeks after a similar incident, in which air strikes on 27 February on a market in a northeastern district of Sanaa killed at least 39 civilians, including nine children.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened on 26 March last year to support President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi after the Houthi militia had seized large parts of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa.

Zeid lamented the failure of the two sides to agree a peace deal, but welcomed a comment from a coalition spokesman to AFP this week indicating the alliance was nearing the end of major combat operations in Yemen.

"I urge both sides to swallow their pride and bring this conflict to a halt," Zeid said.