Houthi rebels have claimed they shot down a Saudi warplane in a "major blow to the enemy." Hours later, the UN reported the Riyadh-led coalition had carried out airstrikes in the same region, killing over 30 civilians.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen announced Saturday that one of its military jets had crashed in the country's mountainous north.
A statement carried by Saudi Arabia's state-run news agency did not specify what caused the crash or if any crew members died, but it said only that the Tornado aircraft had been providing air support to Yemeni government troops battling Houthi rebels. The crash occurred in Jawf province late Friday.
Houthi representatives said they shot down the plane with an "advanced surface-to-air missile." But that claim has not been independently verified.
"The downing of a Tornado in the sky above Jawf is a major blow to the enemy and an indication of remarkable growth in Yemeni [rebel] air defense capabilities," Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam tweeted.
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Airstrikes kill over 30
The insurgents reported that the coalition had carried out multiple retaliatory airstrikes in the rebel-held territory where the plane crashed, reportedly leaving "dozens" of people dead or wounded. The United Nations later said in a statement that "as many as 31 civilians were killed and 12 others injured in strikes," in Jawf.
UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande denounced the "terrible strikes."
The humanitarian organization Save the Children called for the attack to be "urgently and independently investigated."
Meanwhile, the official Saudi Press Agency quoted coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki as saying it was investigating "possible collateral damage" from a rescue operation in the area after the jet crash.
The conflict in Yemen began in 2014, when the Iranian-backed Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, ousting the internationally recognized government. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war in early 2015, launching an airstrike campaign that has killed thousands of Yemeni civilians.
Growing Houthi arsenal?
If the Houthi's claim about bringing down a Saudi fighter jet is confirmed, it would signal the rebels' growing military capability, said Fatima Abo Alasrar, a scholar at the Middle East Institute.
"At the start of the conflict the Huthis were a ragtag militia," she told Agence France-Presse. "Today they have massively expanded their arsenal with the help of Iran and its proxy Hezbollah," Lebanon's Shiite movement.
The war in Yemen has killed more than 100,000 people — most of them civilians — leading to what the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
nm/sms (AFP, AP, dpa)