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131 Civilians Reported Killed After Airstrike Hits Wedding Party in Yemen

The Saudi-led coalition denied responsibility for the incident, which is believed to be the deadliest attack yet on civilians in Yemen's ongoing war.
September 29, 2015, 2:40pm
Photo par Hani Mohammed/AP

The death toll from an airstrike that hit a wedding party in Yemen has climbed to 131 people, medics said on Tuesday. If confirmed, the incident would be the deadliest attack yet on civilians in the country's ongoing war.

Blame for the strike quickly fell on the Saudi-led Arab coalition, which has been bombing Houthi rebel targets in Yemen for the past six months. A spokesman for the coalition was quick to deny responsibility, saying there had been no air operations in the area for three days, and calling reports about the incident "totally false news."

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Two missiles tore through tents in the village Al-Wahijah near the Red Sea port of Mokha, where a local man affiliated with the Houthis was holding his wedding reception, according to residents.

Related: This Network of Merchants Is Helping Refugees Flee the Horrors of Yemen

The death toll from the attack had risen to 131, up from 27 reported on Monday, said a medical source at a local hospital where the casualties were taken.

Yemeni security officials told the Associated Press that the Saudi-led coalition apparently hit the wedding party by mistake. Hassan Boucenine, the head of the Doctors Without Borders mission in Yemen, said many people died because they were unable to receive proper medical care.

"They struck a wedding, there were only civilians there and most of them died because the Mokha hospital is closed because of supply -- no drugs, no fuel, no electricity, no nothing, so the staff left," Boucenine said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon condemned the strike yesterday in a statement, saying that there is no military solution to the country's conflict, and that "its continuation will only bring more human suffering and destruction."

The Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes in March in a bid to drive the Houthis, who are allied with Iran, out of wide swathes of the country that they have seized since last year. The coalition wants to reinstate ousted Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

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Pro-Hadi government forces backed by local militias, Gulf troop reinforcements, and air raids have taken back some territory from the Houthis, including the southern port of Aden, where Hadi has set up a temporary base after returning from exile in Saudi Arabia.

International rights groups have expressed alarm at the escalating number of civilian deaths in Yemen's conflict. Of the more than 4,500 people killed from March to September, at least 2,355 were civilians, according to UN figures released on Tuesday.

Related: The UN Says US Drone Strikes in Yemen Have Killed More Civilians Than al Qaeda

In Geneva, UN human rights office spokesman Rupert Colville said it had a team on the ground in Yemen trying to verify details of the wedding party bloodshed.

Meanwhile, in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday, coalition forces pounded targets near the international airport, an area of the city where numerous military sites and air bases are located. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

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