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US rejects responsibility for civilian deaths in Yemen

Rights groups have said air strikes that killed 97 civilians were made with US-supplied weapons
A Yemeni boy walks at the Queen Arwa University campus following a Saudi-led air strike in the capital Sanaa, on January 30, 2016 (AFP)

US military officials have said they bear no responsibility for civilian casualties in Yemen, where Washington is providing support to a Saudi-led coalition carrying out military strikes.

Human Rights groups say the United States ultimately bears responsibility for strikes on Yemen on 15 March that killed 97 civilians, among them 25 children and infants, because the strikes were conducted with US-supplied weapons.

A spokesman for US Central Command (Centcom) on Friday stressed that the Saudis are the ones who decide which targets to strike.

"The decisions on the conduct of operations to include the selections and final vettings of targets" are being made by the Saudi-led coalition, said Centcom spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder.

"We are confident that the information that we relay and that the support we provide to Saudi Arabia is sound, and provide them with the best option for military success consistent with international norms and mitigating civilian casualties," he added.

"The joint combined planning cell meet regularly with the Saudi military leadership and provide recommendations about being in compliance with the law of armed conflicts.”

The US military provides intelligence and logistical information to the coalition led by Riyadh, which coordinates air strikes on rebels waging a civil war against the Yemeni government.

A ceasefire is set to go into effect Sunday in Yemen, where the conflict flared up a year ago. The ceasefire comes ahead of peace talks due to commence on 18 April in Kuwait.

Ryder said US military officials "have encouraged the Saudis to further investigate" the alleged bombings, as it does any time civilians are said to have been harmed.

Human Rights Watch on Thursday released a report saying the US supplied the bombs used in two airstrikes on a Yemen market.

"One of the deadliest strikes against civilians in Yemen's year-long war involved US-supplied weapons, illustrating tragically why countries should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia," said HRW researcher Priyanka Motaparthy.

"The US and other coalition allies should send a clear message to Saudi Arabia that they want no part in unlawful killings of civilians."

Another US military official said Washington has "pushed the Saudis very hard on this issue".

"There certainly has been a steady drumbeat of concern expressed to the Saudi on this issue," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

"The things we are doing, providing intelligence and precision guided munitions, those are things that prevent civilian casualties," the officer said.

"Good intelligence begets fewer civilian casualties. Precision guided munitions beget fewer innocent civilian casualties."

More than 6,300 people have been killed in the year-long fighting in Yemen, with about half of the victims being civilians, according to the United Nations.

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