An air strike by a Saudi-led coalition on a market in Yemen killed 20 civilians and six Houthi rebels on Friday, medical and military sources said.
The aircraft tried to target rebels at a roadblock on the southern outskirts of the Red Sea port of Khokha, but the fighters fled to a market in the coastal Hodeidah province where they were attacked, the sources said. The raid took place at the entrance to the market that sells the mild narcotic leaf qat, which is very popular among Yemeni men.
Officials said the death toll was likely to rise. The officials insisted on anonymity because they weren't authorised to speak to the press.
The war in Yemen, which began when Houthis – who oppose President Abdrabbuh Mansoor Hadi – seized Yemen's capital of Sana’a in September 2014, has displaced over 3 million people. The conflict has left more than 7,400 people dead and 40,000 wounded since the coalition intervened on the government's side in March 2015, the United Nations says.
A military source close to Saudi-backed Hadi said that by fleeing to the market, the rebels had used civilians as "human shields."
The rebel television channel Al-Masirah also reported the air strike, but gave a slightly higher toll of 27 killed and said dozens more were wounded.
The Saudi-led coalition was not immediately available for comment.
The coalition has come under repeated criticism over civilian casualties in Yemen. In December, it acknowledged that it had made "limited use" of British-made cluster bombs, but said it had stopped using them.
On Thursday, Amnesty International accused the coalition of using banned Brazilian-manufactured cluster munitions in raids on residential areas in northern Saada province, a Shia stronghold.
In mid-February, a coalition air strike killed eight women and a child at a funeral reception near the rebel-held Yemeni capital, Sana’a.
Explosion at sea
A Yemeni coast guard vessel on Friday hit a naval mine suspected of being planted in the Red Sea by Houthis. The explosion killed two sailors and wounded eight, including the ship's captain, security officials said.
The vessel, reported by news agency AFP as a coalition boat, hit a mine off the coast of Yemen's historic port of Mokha on Thursday.
Pro-Hadi forces took Mokha from the Houthis on February 10 and said they aimed to push north to retake the country's main Red Sea port of Hodeida next.
It was the first such explosion of a naval mine since Yemen's civil war began. Saudi-led coalition forces combating Houthis had previously warned of the presence of mines planted by Houthi militants in the Red Sea.
The Saudi-led coalition began a campaign against the rebels in March 2015 in support of Yemen's internationally recognised government. The war has ground into a stalemated conflict in recent months. Peace efforts by the United Nations also have faltered.