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Air strike kills 40 at Yemen refugee camp

Yemen's state news agency said the camp at Haradh was hit by Saudi planes.

Yemeni soldiers stand guard in the capital Sanaa on 20 April, 2014, as they check passing vehicles as authorities tightened security measures a day after a US drone killed 15 al-Qaeda suspects. Picture: AFP.

ADEN - An air strike killed at least 40 people at a camp for displaced people in north Yemen on Monday, humanitarian workers said, in an attack which apparently targeted nearby Houthi fighters who are battling President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Yemen's state news agency Saba, which is under the control of the Houthis, said the camp at Haradh was hit by Saudi planes. It said the dead included women and children, and showed the bodies of five children laid out on a blood-streaked floor.

A Saudi military spokesman said the kingdom was seeking clarification on the incident.

"It could have been that the fighter jets replied to fire, and we cannot confirm that it was a refugee camp," Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said.

"We will ask the Yemeni official agencies to confirm that," he told reporters.

Hadi's Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin earlier blamed Houthi artillery for the explosion.

The International Organisation for Migration, which initially reported 45 deaths, said 40 people were killed and 200 wounded - dozens of them severely.

A humanitarian worker said earlier that the strike hit a truck of Houthi militiamen at the gate to the Mazraq camp, near Haradh, killing residents, guards and fighters.

The medical aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres said at least 34 wounded people were brought to a hospital in Haradh which it supports. Another 29 were dead on arrival.

"People in Al Mazraq camp have been living in very harsh conditions ... and now they have suffered the consequences of an air strike on the camp," said Pablo Marco, MSF operational manager for Yemen.

Mazraq, in the province of Hajja next to the Saudi border, is a cluster of camps that are home to thousands of Yemenis displaced by over a decade of wars between the Houthis and the Yemeni state, as well as East African migrants.

Saudi Arabia, supported by regional Sunni Muslim allies, launched an air campaign to support Hadi after he withdrew last month from the capital to Aden. He left Yemen on Thursday to attend an Arab summit and has not returned.

The fighting has brought civil war to the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country. Sunni Muslim tribesmen allied with Hadi are battling northern Zaydi Shi'ites backed by soldiers loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down after 2011 mass protests against his 33 years in office.

Yemen was already sliding into chaos with a growing southern secessionist movement and a covert US drone campaign -- now stalled -- against al Qaeda in the east.

The growing power of the Houthis, part of a Shi'ite minority that makes up about 20 percent of the country's 25 million people, also means Yemen has become the latest stage for Saudi Arabia's power struggle with Iran.

The two regional rivals support opposing sides in Syria's civil war and in neighbouring Lebanon. Tehran also supports and arms Shi'ite militias in Iraq, although it denies Riyadh's accusations that it supports Yemen's Houthis militarily.