SANAA (Reuters) - At least 16 members of the extended family of a Yemeni mosque imam were killed on Wednesday in an air strike on their family home in northern Yemen by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, a Reuters witness, a medic and a resident said.
The coalition has been giving air support to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in his fight against Iran-allied Houthi militia who have seized much of Yemen since 2014, but has drawn criticism over civilian casualties incurred in the campaign.
Witnesses said missiles struck a house of the imam, identified as Saleh Abu Zainah, in Saada, the capital of Saada province in northern Yemen, the home territory of the Houthis who hail from the Zaydi branch of Shi‘ite Islam.
The imam, his family, his two sons and their families all died in the attack, including at least four children, they said.
A Saudi military spokesman said the coalition was checking whether the report was true and that an investigation would be conducted and its results published if the incident was verified.
Pictures taken by a Reuters photographer showed men digging up the body of a child from under the rubble.
“The air raid happened in the morning and because the house was made of mud, it took us until noon to be able to dig the bodies out,” said Nayef, a resident who helped remove the rubble to recover the bodies.
A medic said rescue workers were concerned about fresh air strikes when they arrived at the scene and found aircraft still hovering overhead.
It was at least the fourth strike by the Saudi-led coalition on a civilian target since U.N.-sponsored peace talks between the Houthis and their General People’s Congress party allies on one side and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government on the other ended without an agreement earlier this month.
A rocket launched from inside Yemen into Saudi Arabia later on Wednesday killed a Saudi soldier in the southern city of Najran, according to the Saudi interior ministry.
Saudi authorities say a wave of shelling by the Houthis since August has killed 29 civilians, including children, and injured around 300 in Najran.
The United Nations human rights office called on Aug. 25 for more light to be shed on the Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen and for violations, including attacks on protected sites like hospitals, to be punished.
Coalition air strikes are responsible for some 60 percent of the civilians killed since March 2015, a U.N. rights office said in a report last week.
At least 10,000 people have been killed overall in Yemen’s 18-month-old civil war, the United Nations said on Tuesday, approaching double the estimates of more than 6,000 cited by officials and aid workers for much of 2016.
U.N. Yemen envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that he would resume consultations with the parties to the conflict to try to take advantage of a new thrust for peace agreed by United States, Gulf Arab states and the United Nations earlier this month.
“My priority will be to gain a re-commitment from all sides to the cessation of hostilities,” he said.
On Aug. 18, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) decided to evacuate its staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen after an air strike on a facility run by the medical charity that killed 19 people.
The Saudi-led coalition expressed deep regret over the decision and said it was trying to set up “urgent meetings” with MSF.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, Mostafa Hashem and Michelle Nichols in New York; writing by Sami Aboudi and Tom Finn; editing by Mark Heinrich