SANAA, Yemen – Saudi-led airstrikes struck a headquarters for police commandos in Yemen's capital Wednesday, killing at least 45 people gathered there to prepare to fight against forces loyal to the country's exiled president, Shiite rebels said.
Hundreds had been gathered at the site, close to Sanaa's presidential palace, to receive weapons while others loitered in the grass and under trees before the strike, three men there told The Associated Press. There also were militiamen there from the ranks of the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, many of them wearing traditional Yemeni clothes, they said.
The bombs and missiles demolished at least three buildings in the complex, damaged armored vehicles and set weapons depots ablaze, many having explosions for at least an hour afterward.
The Houthi-controlled Health Ministry said in a statement that the strikes killed at least 45 members of the security forces and wounded at least 286. The main Houthi satellite news channel gave a similar death toll, saying it was expected to rise.
The three men, along with security officials describing the attack, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
Witnesses said jets also bombed a naval base in the western Hodeida province controlled by the Houthis. Saudi and allied jets also bombed the northern Houthi strongholds of Saada and Hajjah, witnesses said.
The attacks are part a military campaign launched March 26 to try and restore internationally recognized President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, now living in exile in neighboring Saudi Arabia. The strikes target the Houthis and their allies, which include forces loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah.
In a new report Wednesday, World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan said that Yemen's conflict has killed up to 2,000 people and wounded 8,000, including hundreds of women and children. She did not specify how many of the dead were civilian.
Recent U.N. estimates have said that at least 1,037 civilians, including 130 women and 234 children, have been killed in the fighting.
Chan also said that the killings sometimes included whole families, giving the example of a 65-year-old woman named Fathiya who lost 13 members of her family in an attack that left her the only guardian of three surviving grandchildren.
The war, as well as a Saudi-led air and sea blockade of the country, also have caused widespread shortages of fuel, water, food and medical supplies. Earlier this week, the international humanitarian group Oxfam warned that some 16 million people in Yemen don't have access to clean water. Half a million people have been displaced across the country.
Journalists also have been a target following the Houthis seizing Sanaa in September, taking over government institutions and ministries.
In the most recent incident, two young Yemeni journalists, Abdullah Qabil and Youssef al-Ayzari, were found dead after Houthis detained them while covering fighting in the city of Dhamar, south of Sanaa, according to the country's Press Syndicate. The syndicate said the two were led by Houthis on Wednesday to a site struck by Saudi-led airstrikes.
The syndicate held the Houthis responsible for their deaths, saying it is part of their campaign against the press. Many of Yemen's daily and weekly newspapers have been suspended since September. Some journalists have fled the country and the offices of television networks owned by rivals to the Houthis were raided and shut down.
The airstrikes have devastated rebel positions, ammunition depots and bases, but largely has failed to stop the Houthis. Fighters allied to Hadi did manage Tuesday to recapture the strategic city of Dhale, located near Aden.
On Wednesday, Aden residents said mobile phone service had been cut and that fighting intensified on its outskirts.