Saudi-led coalition denies report of airstrike killing 38 at wedding party

A Saudi-led coalition that has been targeting Yemeni rebels disputed reports Monday that an airstrike mistakenly struck and killed 38 people at a wedding party.

A local official and residents in southwest Yemen told Reuters that mostly women and children were killed in the airstrike, but a coalition spokesman said it was “totally false news."

"There have been no air operations by the coalition in that area for three days,” coalition spokesman Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Asseri said.

The reported airstrike hit a celebration in al-Wahga, a village near the strategic Strait of Bab al-Mandab, Yemeni security officials told The Associated Press, who remain neutral in the conflict that has splintered Yemen.

"The coalition knows its responsibility and will always acknowledge a mistake if we make it,” Al-Asseri added. “Take into consideration the chaotic situation in Yemen, with several armed elements and forces active around the country. Also, people sometimes cannot distinguish between canon, mortar and Katyusha (missiles)."

A senior government official told the AP that the incident was "a mistake."

Yemen has been embroiled in fighting that pits the rebels, known as Houthis, and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against the Saudi-backed and internationally recognized government as well as southern separatists, local militias and Sunni extremists. The U.S.-backed coalition has been carrying out airstrikes against the rebels and their allies since March.

Further details and circumstances that led to the wedding party being hit were not immediately known, but the village in which it took place lies in the battered Taiz province, where civilians routinely fall victim to daily Saudi airstrikes as well as rebel mortar shells.

Only seven of Taiz's 21 hospitals are currently open, but they are "totally overwhelmed" and have run out of essential medication, Hassan Boucenine of the Geneva-based aid group Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF, said earlier this week.

The conflict in Yemen has killed at least 2,100 civilians so far, according to U.N. figures.

All officials and local residents spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media or fear reprisals.