Sana’a: More than 80 civilians were killed in an air raid which struck a camp of displaced people in northern Yemen, in the fifth week of a government offensive on Shi’ite rebels, witnesses said on Thursday.
A witness said that most of those killed in Wednesday`s raid were women and children.
The raid was launched by a "warplane (that) targeted displaced families who had gathered under trees in the area of Adi," in Amran province -- scene of heavy fighting between the Army and the rebels, the witness said.
According to reports, a fighter jet shelled a gathering of people in a flat, rocky expanse in al-Adi area of the Harf Sufian district, where the Army is battling Shi`ite rebels.
In a second raid, a war plane bombed survivors as they ran for safety in nearby farmland, the sources said.
A tribal chieftain from the neighbouring Khamir district said at least 87 people were killed and more than 40 others wounded.
"It looks that they were mistaken for gatherings of rebels," the tribal chief told DPA by phone from Khamir.
Military officials have denied the reported casualties among civilians, saying there was no gathering of displaced people in al-Adi.
The Defence Ministry, however, blamed the rebels for "preventing citizens from leaving to the safe areas”.
"The terrorists are using innocent citizens as human shields," the Ministry said in an e-mailed statement that did not directly mention the airstrike.
A military source told the official Saaba news agency that "several rebels were killed" as the Army struck rebel gatherings in Saada province and Harf Sufian district of neighbouring Amran province.
Saada, some 240 km north of Sana’a, has been the centre of fierce fighting between the rebels, known as Houthis, and government troops since the Army launched a massive offensive on their strongholds August 11.
Both sides continue claiming to have inflicted heavy casualties over the last five weeks, but none of the claims have been independently verified, with the media denied access to the restive province.
Officials said the offensive will only end when all insurgents surrender or are killed.
This is the latest flare-up in the fighting that has raged on and off since the Houthis revolt began in mid-2004.
Authorities accuse the Shia group of seeking to restore the rule of the Zaydi royal family, which was toppled by a republican revolution in 1962 in northern Yemen.
The Houthis say they are in revolt against government corruption and the Yemeni alliance with the United States.
(With IANS inputs)