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UN aid chief demands probe into deadly Yemen wedding strike

Blast at wedding party, the second in just over a week, suspected to have been caused by airstrike by Saudi-led coalition
Seven months of war, in which all sides have been accused of rights violations, have left 4,500 civilians dead (AFP)

The United Nations' top aid official has called for a swift investigation into a suspected Saudi-led airstrike that killed dozens of people at a wedding in Yemen on Wednesday night.

Stephen O'Brien, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said he was "deeply disturbed" by news that civilians had been killed in the bombing of a triple wedding party.

"I call for a swift, transparent and impartial investigation into this incident," O'Brien said in a statement.

"Real accountability for parties to conflict, whether they are states or non-state groups, is urgently needed, to ensure that the commitment under international law to protect civilians is meaningful," he added.

O'Brien quoted Yemen's Houthi-controlled ministry of public health as saying that at least 47 people were killed and 35 injured, among them many women and children, in the strike.

Estimates of the death toll have varied widely, although medical sources have confirmed at least 28 deaths to AFP.

The raid hit a house where dozens of people were celebrating in the town of Sanban in Dhamar province, 100 kilometres south of the capital Sanaa.

It was the second alleged airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition on a Yemeni wedding party in just over a week.

On 28 September planes thought to be from the Saudi-led coalition bombed a wedding party in the Red Sea port town of Mocha, killing about 130 people in what the UN says could be the single deadliest attack in seven months of war.

But the coalition, under mounting criticism over the civilian death toll of its bombing campaign against the Houthi militias who it accuses of having Iranian backing, has denied any involvement in either attack.

O'Brien noted that 4,500 civilians had been killed or injured since the Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes against rebels in Yemen in March.

"That is more than in any country or crisis in the world during the same period," he noted.

The strongly-worded statement underscored that the sides had a responsibility under international law to avoid damage to homes and other civilian structures.

"With modern weapons technology, there is little excuse for error," he added.

A Western-backed resolution calling for a UN investigation into rights abuses committed during the conflict in Yemen was withdrawn last week at the UN rights council due to protests from Saudi Arabia.

Hadi's government rejects Houthi 'manoeuvring'

The UN had expressed optimism this week at the prospect of peace between the Saudi-led coalition, which is backing the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, and the Houthi rebels.

The rebels said on Wednesday that they were willing to accept the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls on Houthi fighters to lay down their arms and withdraw from areas under their control.

The UN hailed the move as “an important step” after seven months of a war that has devastated Yemen, already the most impoverished country in the region.

However, Hadi’s government has said it rejects the Houthi offer, calling the announcement “pure manoeuvring”.

“The painful blows dealt to the Houthis by the resistance and the [Saudi-led] coalition have forced them to take this step,” government spokesperson Saleh Mukhtar al-Ruhbi told reporters on Thursday.

Ruhbi accused the Houthis of failing to agree to some of the plan’s key points, saying Hadi’s government is “prepared” to join negotiations once the rebels have implemented each section of the resolution.

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