Saudi shells hit an international aid office in Yemen on Thursday killing five Ethiopian refugees, a local official said, while violence across the country put United Nations-led peace talks in doubt.
The official said that 10 other refugees were wounded when artillery fire and air strikes hit the town of Maydee along Yemen's border with Saudi Arabia in Hajja province, a stronghold of the Iran-allied Houthi rebel group that a Saudi-led Arab alliance has been bombing for eight weeks.
Saudi spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri denied Saudi involvement and blamed the Houthis. "If the report is correct, it would be the responsibility of the Houthis, who have a big presence in the area," Asseri told Reuters by telephone.
Saudi Arabia has previously denied responsibility for civilian deaths in remote northern areas that residents and local officials ascribed to Saudi fire. U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday announced peace talks for Geneva on May 28 to try to find a way out of the crisis that triggered outside intervention by an Arab coalition on March 26.
Rajeh Badi, spokesman for Yemen president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, said consultations were held by the government in exile in the Saudi capital Riyadh over preparations for the conference. But air strikes and deadly fighting raged throughout the country on Thursday.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam demanded on Thursday that the Saudi-led bombing stop before the group attended any talks and said they were capable of heavy retaliation, he told Arab TV channel Al Mayadeen. "We can't accept going to negotiations and dialogue in Geneva while the aggression and shelling on our country continues," Abdul-Salam said. "Any place we want to hit inside the Saudi enemy we will hit at a time of our choosing," he said.
The Saudi-Yemen border has in some places become a frontline between the two sides, and the Houthis' Al Masira TV channel br