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UK minister visits Saudi Arabia over funeral bombing in Yemen

Saudi Arabia said it would investigate air strikes after US decided to review support for coalition
Air strike in Sanaa last weekend killed 140 people, wounded more than 500 (AFP)

The UK has requested oversight into the investigation of a Saudi-led air strike on a funeral in Yemen.

The country’s minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, visited Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and held meetings with Saudi and Yemeni officials, including Yemen’s exiled president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, over the bombing that hit Sanaa last weekend killing 140 people and wounded more than 500.

Among the dead were many senior Houthi officials including the mayor of Sanaa, Abdulqader al-Hilal, the Houthi Minister of Defence Major General Hussain Khiran, the minister of interior, General Omar al-Yafiy, and more than 30 other senior military officers.

Ellwood also hopes to revive talks on a political solution to the conflict.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The minister will urge all parties to adhere to a new cessation of hostilities and come back to the negotiating table. The minister will be raising the UK’s concerns about the air strike on a funeral hall in Sanaa on Saturday. The Joint Incidents Assessment Team has already committed to releasing the findings of their investigation into the incident, and he will press for this to be done as a matter of urgency.”

The Saudi-led coalition said on Sunday it would investigate the air raid, after Washington announced it was reviewing support for the alliance.

Houthi rebels have blamed the Arab coalition for Saturday's attack, one of the deadliest since it launched a military campaign against the rebels in March last year.

The attack could further sour US-Saudi ties already strained over the coalition's military intervention, which is suspected of causing almost half of the more than 4,000 civilian deaths in Yemen's conflict.

"The coalition will immediately investigate this case along with... experts from the United States who participated in previous investigations," it said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

"The coalition is also willing to provide the investigation team with any data and information related to its military operations today, at the incident's location and the surrounding areas," it said.

UN officials said aid workers were "shocked and outraged" by the attack that hit a community hall in Sanaa where mourners had gathered.

Following the strike, the US said it had launched an "immediate review" of its support for the Arab coalition.

"We are deeply disturbed by reports of today's air strike on a funeral hall in Yemen, which, if confirmed, would continue the troubling series of attacks striking Yemeni civilians," White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement at the time.

"In light of this and other recent incidents, we have initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led coalition and are prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with US principles, values and interests."

Price stressed that "US security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank cheque," and called on all sides to implement an "immediate" ceasefire.