Saudi coalition blames funeral raid on wrong information from Yemenis

The Saudi-led coalition Saturday said "mistaken information" from its Yemeni allies was behind an airstrike that killed an estimated 140 people at a funeral in the rebel-held Yemeni capital Sana'a a week earlier.

The airstrike killed a number of prominent political figures, drawing condemnation from the United Nations and prompting the United States to announce a review of its assistance to the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen's Houthi rebels.

The coalition had previously denied carrying out any airstrikes in the vicinity of the hall where mourning ceremonies for the father of the pro-rebel interior minister were taking place.

A statement from an investigation team said that Yemeni military loyal to Saudi-backed President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi had provided information that armed Houthi leaders would be present at the site of the airstrike and that it was a military target.

An aircraft in the area was then tasked to carry out a strike without the permission of the coalition's command and without following procedures intended to prevent civilian casualties, the statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency said.

The investigation team added that legal action should be taken against those responsible for the strike and compensation paid to the victims.

A subsequent statement from the coalition's command said it accepted the investogators' conclusions and regretted "this unintended incident and the pain caused to the families of the victims."

The strike came more than a year after the UN first called on the coalition to halt its air campaign, saying it was responsible for the majority of the conflict's civilian casualties.

Previous coalition strikes have killed over 130 guests at a wedding and hit hospitals, prompting medical charity Doctors Without Borders to pull out of rebel-held northern Yemen.

The Houthis have also been accused of causing numerous civilian casualties, especially by repeated shelling of residential areas held by their opponents.

The US, which has carried out over 5,000 refuelling operations to facilitate the Saudi-led air campaign, says it is carrying out a review of its backing for the coalition as a result of the funeral strike.

US officials, in an anonymous briefing on Friday, described the raid as "particularly egregious" and said they were pushing for an immediate ceasefire.

The officials said it was "unfortunate" that "a number of important figures who are part of the reconciliation process" had been killed in the strike.

The aftermath of the strike saw Houthi-aligned forces fire a ballistic missile at a target some 500 kilometres inside Saudi territory, while a US naval vessel came under rocket fire from what the Pentagon said was Houthi-controlled territory.

The US said it bombed three Houthi-controlled radar sites in response to that. The rebels denied any role in the attack on the ship.

Saudi Arabia intervened in support of Hadi early last year when the mainly Shiite rebels moved on the last strongholds of his internationally recognized government in southern Yemen.

Riyadh fears that the Shiite revivalist Houthi movement will give its regional rival, Shiite Iran, a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula.

The conflict has worsened since peace talks in Kuwait broke up in August without progress.

The struggle in what was already one of the poorest countries in the Arab world has led to serious food and water shortages. The UN last week warned that a cholera outbreak had been confirmed in Sana'a.

Last update: Sat, 15/10/2016 - 18:53

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