June 12, 2015 / 10:25 AM / 2 years ago

At least six killed as Saudi-led air strikes hit ancient Sanaa: agency

SANAA (Reuters) - Saudi-led coalition air strikes killed at least six people and destroyed part of Sanaa’s Old City on Friday, Yemeni news agency Saba and residents said, though Saudi Arabia denied targeting the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A Houthi fighter screams to disperse people from the site of an air strike in Sana'a June 12, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

Residents of the ancient quarter, a labyrinth of souqs, mosques and mud-brick tower houses, told Reuters the bodies of five people from the same family had been pulled from the rubble in one area - while UNESCO condemned the destruction.

“We heard screaming in the alley at around 3 a.m. (midnight GMT) after Saudi strikes hit the area and ran outside to find three houses all destroyed,” Abdullah, an Old City resident, told Reuters.

UNESCO’s Director General Irina Bokova, said in a statement on the agency’s website she was distressed by the loss of lives “as well as by the damage inflicted on one of the world’s oldest jewels of Islamic urban landscape”.

But the Saudi-led military coalition, which has been bombing Iran-allied Houthis fighters in Yemen for more than 11 weeks, denied it had launched any operations in the district of the city.

“The leadership of the alliance has not performed any operations in these historic districts and has not targeted ancient Sanaa,” said spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri,

The Saudi-led coalition is trying to restore Yemen’s exiled president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power after he was forced to leave Sanaa and then the country by a Houthi advance.

The Houthis have now seized large parts of Yemen including much of the port city of Aden, and control the news agency that reported the Saudi-led strikes.

Western powers and the Arab alliance fear Iran is trying to extend its influence in the Arabian Peninsula country.

The Houthis say they are pursuing a revolution against a corrupt government and Islamist militants, and deny any military or economic links to Iran, which also says it gives them only diplomatic support.

The World Health Organization said on Friday 2,584 people have been killed and 11,065 injured in the conflict so far.

U.N.-sponsored talks are due to be held in Geneva on Monday to try to find a solution to the crisis which has left 80 percent of the population needing some form of humanitarian aid.

The U.N. said the date had been changed from Sunday as one of the Yemeni delegations was arriving late.

Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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