MADRID: Spain said yesterday it has cancelled a 2015 deal to sell 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition fighting rebels in Yemen. A defense ministry spokesman confirmed a Cadena Ser radio report that said Spain's new Socialist government planned to return the 9.2 million euros ($10.6 million) already paid by the Saudis for the arms under a deal signed by the previous conservative administration. The spokesman declined to elaborate but the announcement comes after an August air strike by the Saudi-led coalition battling rebels in Yemen that killed dozens of civilians, including 40 children.

The incident sparked a wave of international anger and calls by the United Nations Security Council for a "credible and transparent" investigation. The coalition had claimed to have targeted a bus carrying rebels. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other allies intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after Shiite Houthi rebels linked to Iran ousted President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's government from the capital Sanaa and seized swathes of the country.

Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict since then, 2,200 of them children, and sparked what the UN has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Amnesty International says Spain is one of biggest arms exporters to Saudi Arabia. It and other rights groups, including Greenpeace and Oxfam yesterday urged Spain to stop all arm sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Spain's secretary of state for trade, Xiana Mendez.

The government did not make any commitment to limit other arms sales to Saudi Arabia during he meeting, Oxfam spokeswoman Lara Contreras said. While the 400 bombs which Spain will no longer send to Riyadh represent just "one percent of total arms sales to Saudi Arabia, it sends a clear message that it is important" to the Spanish government, she added. Spain signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia in April to sell the Gulf Arab state five warships in a deal estimated to be worth around 1.8 billion euros.

38 rebels killed

In another development, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen killed 38 rebels in the past 24 hours in air strikes on the strategic port of Hodeida, military and medical sources said yesterday. The latest raids come just days before peace talks in Geneva between the internationally recognized government backed by the coalition and the Shiite Houthi rebels linked to Iran. Pro-government military sources told AFP the coalition targeted Houthi sites, including a roundabout in the south that leads to the centre of Hodeida city and near a naval academy to the west.

Four military vehicles belonging to the rebels were also targeted near Hodeida's airport. Medical sources in Hodeida said 38 Houthi rebel fighters were killed and 26 were wounded. Hodeida's port serves as an entry point for some 70 percent of imports in a country where eight million people face imminent famine. The Red Sea port has been controlled by the rebels since 2014, when they drove the government out of Sanaa and much of the country. The government and the coalition accuse the Houthis of receiving smuggled weapons through Hodeida and have demanded their unconditional withdrawal from the city.

Pro-government forces backed by the alliance have paused their assault on Hodeida port after launching an offensive in June in what they say is a bid to give UN-led peace efforts a chance. Tomorrow's talks in Geneva are expected to focus on the fate of embattled Hodeida, as well as a prisoner exchange deal. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other allies intervened in the conflict between Yemen's government and rebels in March 2015, aiming to push back the Houthis and return the government to power. Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict since then, 2,200 of them children.- Agencies