Yemen rebels accuse Saudi-led coalition of killing political head

Yemen's Huthis have accused the Saudi-led coalition of killing the leader of the rebels' supreme political council, Saleh Ali al-Sammad, in an air strike last week

Sanaa (AFP) – Yemen’s Huthi rebels on Monday accused the Saudi-led coalition of killing their  political leader, Saleh al-Sammad, in an air strike last week.

Sammad, head of the Huthis’ supreme political council, was “martyred” in the eastern province of Hodeida on Thursday, the Iran-allied rebels said in a statement published via their Saba news agency.

His death comes as a major blow to the Shiite rebels who since March 2015 have been fighting pro-government forces backed by a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

“This crime won’t go unanswered,” warned the Huthis’ overall leader, Abdul Malek al-Huthi.

The news came hours after officials in Yemen said dozens of people were killed and wounded in an air raid on a wedding party in the country on Sunday, in another attack the Huthis blamed on the coalition.

Medical sources and local officials put the number of dead between 22 and 33, with at least 40 to 50 wounded, while the exact circumstances of the raid remained unclear.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Twitter that a hospital it supports in Hajjah received at least 65 patients, including at least 13 children, wounded in the air strikes, which it said were “among the most devastating in the area in recent months”.

Rescue teams said the wedding was being held in the Huthi-controlled Bani Qais area of Hajjah province, north of Sanaa, when jets carried out the raid.

A local official told AFP that at least 23 civilians, including women and children, were killed in the attack.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a double air strike on the crowded party venue had left a number of dead bodies buried beneath the rubble.

Huthi-run Al-Masirah television said at least 33 people, including women and children, were killed and as many as 55 people wounded in the air strike on the wedding. 

The coalition’s spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the incident.

Iran, which is accused of supplying arms to the Huthis, swiftly condemned the raid.

“The escalated bombardment of residential areas proves the desperation and inability of the invaders in achieving their goals,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said in a statement.

– New rebel missiles fired –

Also on Monday, the coalition said it shot down two new ballistic missiles fired by the Huthis, who claimed to target facilities belonging to the kingdom’s oil giant Aramco in southern Jizan city.

The coalition reported no damage or loss of life from the strikes, the latest in a string of bombardments on Saudi Arabia by the Huthis.

Saudi forces said they intercepted a rebel ballistic missile targeting its southern border city of Najran on Sunday, which set a farm ablaze, after another aimed at Jizan was shot down on Friday.

At the beginning of April, Huthi political head Sammad dubbed 2018 “the year of ballistic excellence”, referring to cross-border missile attacks.

Sunday’s deadly strike in Hajjah was one of a series to have struck weddings in Yemen’s conflict, which has killed nearly 10,000 people and wounded 54,000 others since March 2015.

In late 2015, coalition air strikes on two wedding parties in northern Yemen killed at least 159 civilians.

Violence has also hit funerals. In October 2016, 140 mourners were killed in an air strike on a house in Sanaa.

Elsewhere in Yemen on Monday, five pro-government soldiers were killed and 19 wounded in clashes with jihadists in the southern city of Taez, medics said.

Fighting in the city’s Jahmaliah district came after the governor of Taez launched an operation against jihadists he suspected were behind the murder of a Red Cross aid worker over the weekend.

The Lebanese aid worker, Hanna Lahoud, was shot dead in Taez on Saturday by unidentified assailants who sprayed his Red Cross vehicle with bullets.

Yemen’s conflict has sparked what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.