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Saudi-led Yemen strikes illegally kill civilians: Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch allege that Friday's air strikes alone killed at least 309 civilians
An estimated 2,500 Yemeni civilians have died in coalition strikes since March (AA)

The Saudi-led coalition conducted at least 10 air strikes in Yemen on Friday that broke the laws of war and killed civilians, according to Human Rights Watch.

In a new report written by the watchdog, an estimated 2,500 Yemeni civilians have died in coalition strikes since March.

The UAE and other regional powers including Qatar, Egypt and Morocco have joined a Saudi-led coalition that has been bombing Yemen for nine months, in an attempt to crush Houthi rebels who overran much of the country last September.

Both sides have been accused of large-scale human rights violations during the conflict, which has killed over 5,700 people, at least half of whom are thought to be civilians.

Earlier this month UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he would halt UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia if the kingdom is found to have breached international law during the intervention.

Riyadh has steadfastly denied earlier accounts of indiscriminate bombing, but Friday's detailed report cites a wealth of witness testimony.

The strikes in the report killed at least 309 civilians, wounded at least 414 and breached the allies' obligation to investigate alleged war crimes. 

"Human Rights Watch found either no evident military target or that the attack failed to distinguish civilians from military objectives," the report said.

"Human Rights Watch is unaware of any investigations by Saudi Arabia or other coalition members in these or other reported cases."

The 10 suspect attacks took place in Houthi-controlled Sanaa, Amran, Hajja, Hodeida and Ibb and hit residential houses, market places, a factory and a civilian prison.

Washington has given strong diplomatic backing to the Saudi offensive and approved a $1.29bn sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia earlier this month.

A US State Department spokeswoman said it was aware of the Human Rights Watch report and that "any loss of civilian life in a conflict is tragic".

She blamed the Houthis for starting the war and noted that the report also accuses the rebels of shelling civilian areas.

But the spokeswoman added: "We have asked the Saudi government to investigate all credible reports of civilian casualties resulting from coalition-led airstrikes and, if confirmed, to address the factors that led to them."

Britain and France are also major arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia and its Emirati ally.

Human Rights Watch urged the United Nations Security Council to investigate its allegations and to remind the warring parties of their legal responsibilities.