The United Arab Emirates denied on Monday targeting a refugee boat off the western coast of Yemen and called for an international investigation into the incident that killed 42 people last week.

An airstrike on Friday hit a boat allegedly heading to Sudan that was carrying 140 migrants, from Yemen and Somalia, off Yemen's western Hodeidah province.

"The UAE Armed Forces did not target the Somali refugee boat which was travelling from the coast of Yemen to Sudan," the official state news agency reported quoting a source in the armed forces.

Citing preliminary investigations into the incident, the source said the armed forces "have clearly recognized the non-military nature of the boat which was carrying a large number of civilians."

The UAE welcomes an independent international investigation into the incident, the source said, blaming the Houthi rebel forces, who control most of Hodeidah province.

The Gulf country is a member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels, who seized control of the capital Sana'a and other parts of Yemen in 2014.

The conflict has escalated since March 2015, when Saudi Arabia began an air campaign against the mostly Shiite rebels, as Saudis fear that rebels will give their regional rival, Iran, a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula.

As the situation in Yemen worsens because of the war, Yemenis and foreigners are increasingly fleeing the country. Yemen hosts more than 255,000 Somali refugees, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

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