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Saudi-led coalition says will work to reduce Yemen civilian deaths

DUBAI (Reuters) - A Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen regrets civilian deaths, which it says are unintentional, and is improving its targeting mechanisms with Western help, the alliance said on Sunday.

A man records damage at a tea factory after it was hit by Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen's capital Sanaa January 30, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

The coalition “greatly regrets civilian casualties in Yemen”, it said in a statement posted by Saudi Arabia’s mission to the United Nations on its Twitter page.

A U.N. report seen by Reuters on Wednesday said the Saudi-led coalition has targeted civilians in Yemen, documenting 119 sorties it said related to violations of international humanitarian law.

“The Arab coalition announces the formation of a high-level independent committee ... to evaluate the events, identification and targeting mechanisms and developing them,” the Saudi mission’s statement said.

In March, the Saudi-led alliance began a military campaign in Yemen to prevent Houthi fighters, whom it sees as a proxy for Iran, from taking complete control of Yemen after seizing much of the north.

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The Houthis deny any backing from Tehran and accuse the coalition of launching a war of aggression.

Around 6,000 people, about half of them civilians according to the United Nations, have been killed in fighting and air strikes since the intervention began.

In a news conference in Riyadh on Sunday, Saudi coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri acknowledged mistakes in air operations in Yemen, but mostly defended the alliance’s record while noting that its Western allies were helping to improve their performance.

“Experts from the United States ... (will) work on extensive reports and develop operating mechanisms, together with the British side,” Asseri said, adding that the advisers held a workshop in recent days at the coalition headquarters.

Asseri said the coalition was responsible for the bombing of a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in northern Yemen on Oct. 27 which it had denied at the time, explaining to reporters that planes had targeted Houthi fighters near the facility.

Reporting By Noah Browning and Ali Abdelaty; Editing by Dominic Evans