SANAA, Yemen — Yemen’s Shiite rebels Friday backed a U.N. call for a probe into a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in the country’s north that killed dozens of people the previous day, including many children, in an attack that drew wide international criticism.

Senior Yemeni rebel leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said on Twitter that the rebels – known as Houthis – welcome the call and are willing to cooperate in an investigation of the strike in Saada province that hit a bus carrying civilians, many of them school children, in a busy market in Dahyan district.

The coalition said Friday it would investigate and spokesperson for the Saudi Embassy in Washington Fatimah S. Baeshen said in a statement the case was referred to the coalition’s investigative body.

“The coalition will, as it has always, exert all efforts to preserve civilian lives,” she said.

The coalition’s statement signaled a shift in its earlier stance when spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki defended the attack as a “legitimate military action” and blamed the Houthis for recruiting children and using them in the battlefields as cover.

The coalition, which has been at war with the Houthis for more than three years, said the attack on Saada was in response to a missile fired by the rebels into the kingdom’s south a day earlier. The coalition said it had intercepted and destroyed the missile but its fragments killed one person and wounded 11 others in Saudi’s southwestern border region of Jizan.

The Iran-aligned Houthis regularly fire into Saudi Arabia and have previously targeted its capital, Riyadh, with ballistic missiles. They say their missile attacks on the kingdom are in retaliation for air raids on Yemen by the Western-backed coalition. On Friday, the rebel-run Al Masirah TV reported that the Houthis fired ballistic missiles targeting military bases in Saudi Arabia’s southern provinces of Asir and Jizan. The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya satellite news channel reported that the coalition had intercepted two missiles fired toward Jizan.

In a statement after Thursday’s airstrike, U.N. chief Antonio Guterres urged Yemen’s warring parties to take “constant care to spare civilians” during military operations and also called for an “independent and prompt investigation.”

The United Nations said an exact death toll has yet to be confirmed but initial reports point to more than 60 casualties, with dozens severely wounded. Al-Masirah reported at least 51 people, including 40 children, were killed and 79 others, including 56 children, were wounded in the airstrike, citing the Yemeni Health Ministry in the capital, Sanaa, which is under rebel control.

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