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Saudi Arabia relaxes Yemen air blockade for evacuation of wounded

The kingdom expressed 'deep regret' over the attack in a letter to the United Nations, state media reported. Photograph: (AFP)

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Oct 12, 2016, 04.58 PM (IST)

Saudi Arabia today said it would relax its 18-month air blockade of Yemen's rebel-held areas to facilitate the evacuation of hundreds of wounded from last week's funeral air strike, international news agency AFP reported. 

An air strike on a funeral ceremony in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa killed more than 140 people on October 8 and left more than 525 injured. 

The air raid  occurred in the southern part of the city when a wake was taking place for the father of the administration's interior minister, Jalal al-Roweishan, who had died of natural causes on Friday, according to Reuters. 

It was one of the deadliest attacks since a Saudi-led coalition launched a bombing campaign against the Huthi Shi'ite in March last year.

More than 300 are in critical condition and need medical treatment abroad, the spokesman for the rebel-run health authority in Sanaa, Tamim al-Shami has been quoted as saying by AFP. 

King Salman instructed aid officials to coordinate with the coalition and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government "to facilitate the evacuation of those wounded... and needing treatment abroad," the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

According to the state media, the kingdom expressed 'deep regret' over the attack in a letter to the United Nations. 

UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Sunday called for an impartial and independent probe into the raids, demanding that the perpetrators face justice.

The coalition has enforced an air and sea blockade on rebel areas since the start of its bombing campaign, with exceptions made only for UN flights and UN-supervised aid deliveries, most of them through the Red Sea port of Hodeida, AFP said.

Houthi rebels had accused the Arab coalition of Saturday's attack. The Saudi-led coalition denied any responsibility but promised an investigation into the 'regrettable and painful' incident.

The airstrikes came at a time when Saudi Arabia is under increasing international scrutiny over allegations of civilian deaths in its air raids.

Meanwhile, the Yemeni rebels fired a missile at a Saudi air base in Khamis Mushait but was intercepted. This is the second such missile launch since Saturday's attack.

The area is home to an air base which holds strategic importance for the coalition's bombing campaign against Houthi Shiite rebels and their allies. It is about 100 kilometres from the Yemeni border.

Air defence forces "intercepted a ballistic missile, launched by the Houthi militias toward the city of Khamis Mushait and destroyed it without any damage," a coalition statement said.

More than 6,800 people have been killed in Yemen since the coalition started its campaign.

(WION with inputs from AFP)

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