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Top Houthi political leader killed in Saudi coalition air strike

Saleh al-Samad is the most senior Houthi official killed in the Saudi-led war on Yemen so far
Saleh al-Samad, head of the Houthi supreme political council, in August 2016 (Reuters)

A top-ranking political leader in Yemen’s Houthi rebel group was killed last week in a Saudi-led coalition air strike, the movement said on Monday.

Saleh al-Samad, head of the rebel administration in the country’s north, was “martyred” in east Yemen’s Hodeida province on Thursday, according to a statement on the Houthi-run Saba news agency.

Samad is also head of the group’s supreme political council and the most senior Houthi official to be killed so far in a conflict that has raged for three years and left more than 10,000 dead.

Mahdi al-Mashat, who was previously a representative of the group's leader Abdul Malek al-Houthi, has been named Samad’s replacement, according to the Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV.

Samad was number two on the coalition’s most-wanted list, after the group’s leader.

His loss is a major blow to the Houthis, who are facing an escalation in the conflict on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, where Samad was killed.

According to Saudi-owned TV channel Al-Arabiya, the coalition had offered $20m for any information that could lead to Samad’s capture.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to push back against the Houthis’ territorial gains and reinstate the toppled government of President Abd Rabbuh Hadi.

Since then, the conflict has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, which estimates that 22 million civilians – three out of four Yemenis – need relief aid.

Coalition air strikes have hit many civilians, killing hundreds of people, yet Riyadh and its allies insist they only concentrate on military targets.

Late on Sunday, air strikes killed at least 20 people at a wedding in a village in northwestern Yemen, according to residents and medical sources.