SEPT. 28, 2015
Airstrikes in Yemen Hit Wedding Party, Killing Dozens
By SHUAIB ALMOSAWA and KAREEM FAHIM
SANA, Yemen -- Warplanes with the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition bombed a wedding party on Yemen's Red Sea coast on Monday, killing at least 70 civilians, according to two local officials and a relative of one of the victims.
The aerial attack, in Wahija, south of the port city of Mokha, appeared to be among the deadliest involving civilians since the start of Yemen's war this past March. The death toll was difficult to confirm, in part because the bodies of the victims were badly mangled, witnesses said.
The killings added to criticism of the Saudi-led coalition for carrying out what human rights advocates and aid workers said was a military campaign that increasingly failed to distinguish between military targets and civilians. The coalition's stated goal has been to beat back the Houthis, a rebel group from the north that has seized control of Sana, the capital, and other territory that has forced the government into exile.
A coalition spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, told Reuters on Monday that the reports of the killings at the wedding were "false news" and that there had been no coalition air operations in the area for the last three days. Efforts to reach General Assiri for further comment were unsuccessful.
Thousands of civilians have died as most of western Yemen has been swept up in war, and the majority of those deaths have come in airstrikes. In almost every case, the Saudi coalition has either denied responsibility for the killings or blamed Houthi militants. Saudi Arabia has also sought to head off a mission to Yemen by human rights investigators with the United Nations who would look into violations by all the warring parties.
The Obama administration, which has supported the Saudi war effort by providing intelligence and logistical support, has avoided any direct public rebuke of the Saudis, while calling on coalition planners to investigate reports of civilian casualties.
The attack on Monday morning was at least the third time in the last 10 days that the coalition had been blamed for killing large numbers of civilians. Since Sept. 20, bombings in Sana have killed at least 28 people, including 11 members of one family. On Sunday, helicopters flying from Saudi Arabia killed at least 30 people in a village near the Yemen border, local residents and medical personnel told Reuters.
In a sign that the pace of the deaths was becoming harder to ignore, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, issued an unusually sharp public criticism of the Saudi-led coalition in an address to the General Assembly in New York on Monday.
"All sides are showing disregard for human life -- but most of the casualties are being caused by airstrikes," he said, according to a transcript of his remarks. "I call for an end to the bombings, which are also destroying Yemeni cities, infrastructure and heritage," he added.
Ahmed Altabozi, who said a niece, Fatma Al-Khaishani, had been killed in the bombing of the wedding party, called the attack inexplicable. The wedding tents were in a remote stretch of the desert, far from any "military sites, soldiers or the presence of the state." The majority of villagers had already left the area, fearing the airstrikes, he said.
Mr. Altabozi said that he heard the bombs from his house, which is less than a mile away, about 11 a.m. Two initial airstrikes hit one tent, and other bombs, minutes later, fell on a second tent where a group of women had taken shelter, causing most of the casualties, he said.
"I saw no body intact," he added.
A local council official had said early Monday that the groom, Mirsal Buseibis, had been killed, but Mr. Altabozi said Mr. Buseibis had survived.
Shuaib Almosawa reported from Sana and Kareem Fahim from Cairo. Somini Sengupta contributed reporting from New York.