May 22, 3:46 PM EDT

Heavy Saudi-led airstrikes target Shiite rebels in Yemen



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Heavy Saudi-led airstrikes target Shiite rebels in Yemen

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SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- The Saudi-led coalition on Friday launched heavy airstrikes against Shiite rebels in Yemen, targeting camps and weapons depots in the rebel-held capital, as a U.N. agency said some 234 children were killed in violence over the past two months.

Residents of Sanaa awoke to the sound of explosions early Friday morning as warplanes targeted weapons caches in Noqum mountain, sending up bursts of flames and columns of smoke.

As night fell over Sanaa Friday night, another set of airstrikes across the capital sent residents scrambling for shelter. Witnesses told The Associated Press the airstrikes were among the most extensive and powerful since the beginning of the coalition campaign on March 26.

Airstrikes also targeted the rebels, known as Houthis, in their northern home base of Saada province. Witnesses described seeing Apache helicopters flying overhead that appeared to be targeting rebel vehicles. All witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for their safety.

Yemen's war pits forces loyal to the country's exiled president against the Houthis and allied military units. In Saada province on Friday, a new front in the war appeared to have opened as heavily armed pro-government tribesmen began advancing on the city of Saada - the capital of Saada province and the stronghold of the Houthi rebels, according to military officials and tribesmen.

The Houthis have occasionally carried out cross-border attacks from Saada, which borders Saudi Arabia. Yahia al-Qahtani, the spokesman for the Saudi civil defense authority in the southern Saudi border region of Jizan, said on Friday that a child was killed and three other children wounded when missiles from inside Yemen struck their village a day earlier.

Elsewhere, Yemeni security officials said three suspected al-Qaida members were killed in a drone strike on their vehicle in the southern province of Shabwa. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the press.

In Geneva, CÚcile Pouilly, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that at least 1,037 civilians, including 130 women and 234 children, have been killed between March 26 and May 20. An estimated 2500 civilians have been injured and the cities of Saada and Aden have endured the most extensive damage to their infrastructure, she said.

The U.N. is planning to hold peace talks in Geneva at the end of May and the organization has urged all rival parties to participate. So far, the rebels have expressed support for the talks while the internationally recognized government-in-exile has said it would only participate if the rebels withdraw from cities they occupy - including the capital.

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