SANAA — The death toll from Saudi-led air strikes that hit a wedding party in Yemen has risen to 131, making it the deadliest single incident since the start of the country’s civil war, medical officials said today.
The UN says at least 2,355 civilians have been killed in fighting since March, when the coalition began launching air strikes against Shiite Houthi rebels and allied army units, who control the capital and are at war with the internationally recognized government, as well as southern separatists, local militias and Sunni extremists.
At least 80 women were killed in the wedding air strikes in the central province of Taiz, said Yemeni medical officials who work in the province and have been neutral in the conflict. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
Hassan Boucenine, of the Genevan-based Doctors Without Borders, called it the deadliest single incident since the beginning of the conflict.
“To be honest it’s worse and worse . . . ; it’s beyond despair,” said Boucenine, speaking about the war.
The Saudi-led and United States-backed coalition apparently struck the wedding party by mistake yesterday in al-Wahga, a village near the town of Mokha and the strategic Strait of Bab al-Mandab, Yemeni security officials said. The region is largely populated by fishermen and livestock traders.
“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.
The provincial capital of Taiz was inaccessible due to ongoing fighting.
Victims were transported to Hodeida province to the north, he said, and most of them died on the road. Witness Ahmed Nagy said many of the injured were moved in pickup trucks used for transporting animals.
Paramedic Khaled Basees said local people took on the medical operation without any state assistance, adding that some of the dead were torn apart and their unidentifiable remains buried in a mass grave.
Another witness, Mehdi Abdel Salam, said missile fragments destroyed several homes next to the wedding.
Officials from the Saudi-led coalition could not immediately be reached for comment.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the air strikes, which he said “killed as many as 135 people” and called on all parties involved in the conflict in Yemen, “from inside and outside the country, to immediately cease all military activities”.