SANAA (Reuters) - Residents and medics said air strikes by helicopters flying from Saudi Arabia killed 30 civilians in a Yemeni village on Sunday, but Saudi authorities dismissed the accounts as “totally false”.
Apache helicopters fired rockets at the village of Bani Zela in Hajjah province, 10 km (6.5 miles) from the Saudi border, killing at least 25 civilians, including women and children, the residents and medics said.
The helicopters returned for a second strike as residents and medical teams were trying to evacuate casualties, killing three medics and two more civilians, they said.
“People were fleeing their homes as the helicopters pursued,” a resident who identified himself as Khaled, told Reuters by telephone. “They committed a massacre for no reason.”
Yemen’s Saba news agency, run by the Houthi group now in control of much of the country and under attack by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, put the death toll at 28 and said 17 others were injured, some seriously.
“Rescue teams and medics are still working on transfering the casualties to safety,” the agency said, quoting an official in the province.
A Saudi official said the coalition had played no role in any attack in the area.
“This is totally false news. We deny it,” the official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters, adding that no coalition helicopters operated so far from the border.
The coalition has been pounding the Iran-allied Houthi group from the air for six months, trying to eject it from the capital Sanaa and restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power.
The campaign has resulted in several mass killings of civilians, including 36 people at a water bottling plant in
August and 25 workers at a milk factory in April.
The target of Sunday’s strikes was unclear, but the border area has recently been the scene of clashes between Yemen’s Houthis and Saudi forces. Last week, the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya channel reported that 40 Houthis were killed during an attack on al-Hathera village in Saudi Arabia’s Jizan province.
Sunday’s attack came less than a day after Saudi Arabia announced that a brigadier general died in hospital of wounds suffered in an incident on the border with Yemen.
Ibrahim Omar Ibrahim Hamzi, deputy commander of the 8th brigade in Saudi Arabia’s southern Jizan province, was injured “defending the nation and its citizens,” the statement said, without providing details.
His death follows the killing of two border officers along the frontier on Saturday.
About 100 Saudi military personnel, including another general, have been killed along the border with Yemen since the Saudi-led campaign began in March, according to a Reuters count.
More than 4,500 Yemenis have also died since March, according to U.N. figures.
In the latest fighting, coalition air strikes pounded suspected Houthi targets in the capital around 25 times, residents said, and hit several other central provinces.
Gulf troops and allied Yemeni tribesmen were fighting ground battles against militiamen and their allies in Yemen’s army in the desert province of Marib 120 km (75 miles) east of Sanaa on Sunday.
The two sides exchanged artillery fire in a coalition push for the strategic foothills leading to Sanaa on Saturday, backed by Arab air strikes.
At least 20 bodies from both sides were seen on the battlefield, a local official told Reuters.
Hadi arrived in the southern port city of Aden on Tuesday, a week after his government’s formal return to Yemen from Saudi Arabia after nearly six months in exile.
But he left the country again on Sunday, local officials said, en route to the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. It remains unclear whether he will return again to Yemen or go back to Saudi Arabia.
Reporting by Noah Browning, Mohammed Ghobari, Mohammed Mukhashaf and William Maclean; editing by Sami Aboudi and Andrew Roche