The wedding was almost over. Three brothers waited at their father's house, as is tradition in Yemen, for their new brides to arrive.
Then, according to relatives of the victims, the bombs fell.
Medics say more than 20 people were killed in the airstrikes on Sanban on Wednesday night, while health officials in the country's capital of Sanaa said over 50 people died -- the latest mass civilian casualty in Yemen's six-month war. The death toll was expected to rise as people were trapped under the rubble and many had been severely wounded.
Immediately, the facts of the tragedy in the remote town were in dispute. Residents and local media reported that warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition bombed the wedding, while a spokesman for the coalition -- which is made up of several Arab nations -- denied they had conducted any airstrikes in the area and instead blamed local clashes.
At least one of the grooms, 20-year-old Abdulraham, was reported killed, while there were conflicting reports about the condition of the other grooms and the three brides.
"There were a lot of bodies," Hamid Sanabani, a 29 year-old who had relatives at the wedding, told The WorldPost. Sanabani, who is a photographer based in the country's capital, said over 100 people came out to celebrate the marriage of Abdulrahman and his brothers Ayman and Muaiad, who are also in their early 20s. "They didn't expect anything like this," he said.
Another relative, who requested anonymity to protect his immediate family, said the strikes hit around around 9 p.m. local time, leaving guests scrambling to find survivors in the dark with candles and flashlights. The relative said the celebration was the first major wedding in Sanban since the war broke out -- an act of courage designed to lift the morale of the small town nestled in the mountains of the Dhamar region, about 50 miles south of the capital.
"The people didn't hurt anyone, they didn't bother anyone, they live in peace," Sanabani told The WorldPost. "It was just a wedding."
The bombing took place just nine days after another wedding party was hit by missiles in the deadliest single incident of the war to date. Medics said 131 people were killed when bombs struck a group of wedding tents in al-Wahijah, on the Red Sea coast, last Monday. Witnesses in that attack said warplanes from the Arab coalition dropped the bombs, but the group has denied involvement in that incident as well.
"People are afraid now to have weddings but many strangely [still go]," Yemeni freelance journalist Zaid al-Alaya'a told The WorldPost via Twitter. "Yemenis are very tough people and resilient, they love life and dig for any source to be happy."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned last week's attack on the wedding party. "There is no military solution to the conflict in Yemen. Its continuation will only bring more human suffering and destruction," his spokesperson said in a statement.
Almost 5,000 people, around half of them civilians, have been killed in airstrikes and ground clashes in Yemen since March, when the coalition of Arab nations launched airstrikes to push back advancing Houthi rebels. The Houthis, a mostly Shiite group from northern Yemen, overran the capital last September and then captured swaths of the country, with the support of those loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemen's current president, Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, fled the country in March.
The fighting has raged on ever since, sparking a humanitarian crisis in the Arab world's poorest nation and bringing an ever-wider array of forces into the morass. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have troops on the ground helping local forces recapture territory, while the local branches of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda have seized upon the chaos. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's allies, including the U.S. and U.K., are providing logistical support to the coalition and political cover to deflect international demands for a U.N. investigation into possible human rights violations committed by all sides in the war.
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