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Saudis Face Mounting Pressure Over Civilian Deaths in Yemen Conflict

CAIRO — Saudi Arabia faced mounting international pressure on Tuesday to halt its bombing campaign in Yemen the day after airstrikes killed dozens of people at a village wedding on the Red Sea coast.

The attack occurred Monday morning in the village of Wahija, south of the city of Mokha, and appeared to be one of the deadliest involving civilians since the military campaign began in March. Local witnesses said on Monday that at least 70 people were killed in tents that had been set up for the wedding. On Tuesday, two local medical officials said as many as 81 people had been killed.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition conducting the aerial campaign has denied that its warplanes were responsible for the attack.

It was the latest in a series of airstrikes that have apparently led to large numbers of civilian deaths, fueling accusations that the coalition is conducting an increasingly reckless offensive against the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group. The airstrikes have also led to growing criticism of the United States, which is providing military support to the Saudis and other Persian Gulf allies in the coalition.

On Monday, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, addressing the General Assembly in New York, took the unusual step of pointing out that most casualties in the conflict had been caused by coalition airstrikes.

Later on Monday, Mr. Ban released a statement condemning the bombing of the wedding party while warning that “any intentional attack against civilians is considered a serious violation of humanitarian law.” He called on all parties involved in the Yemeni conflict, “from inside and outside the country, to immediately cease all military activities.”

On Tuesday, in another sign of the growing criticism, Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, made repeated reference to the deaths caused by the coalition. In a press briefing, Mr. Colville said civilians were being killed by “an increasing number of airstrikes targeting bridges and highways.”

A recent report by the high commissioner’s office found that almost two-thirds of reported civilian deaths “had allegedly been caused by coalition airstrikes, which were also responsible for almost two-thirds of damaged or destroyed civilian public buildings,” Mr. Colville said.

The United Nations has been trying to conduct an investigation into human rights violations by all sides in Yemen’s war. Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies in the coalition have opposed a United Nations investigation and instead called for an inquiry by Yemen’s Saudi-backed government, which was forced into exile by the Houthis.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly dismissed accusations that coalition airstrikes are killing civilians and has instead blamed the Houthis for the deaths.

Mr. Colville released new casualty figures for the war on Tuesday, saying that at least 2,355 civilians had been killed since it began in late March.

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(via NY Times)