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At least 1,200 inmates escape as Yemen fighting intensifies near prison

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SANAA, Yemen — Some 1,200 inmates fled a prison in Yemen on Tuesday after guards deserted their posts amid fierce fighting between Shiite rebels and their opponents, officials said.

A security official said the jailbreak in the southwestern city of Taiz came after its main prison was caught in crossfire between southerners fighting for autonomy or outright independence and the rebels, known as Houthis, who are backed by army units loyal to a former president.

It was the third major jailbreak since a Saudi-led air campaign against the rebels began on March 26. The Iran-backed rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, last September and control much of the country's north.

Some 300 inmates, including a top militant leader, were freed from a prison in Mukalla after al-Qaida militants captured the southern port city in April. The Houthis allegedly freed inmates from a prison in the southwestern city of Dhale.

Saudi-led airstrikes meanwhile targeted convoys carrying militiamen sent to reinforce the Houthis and allied forces in the eastern province of Marib, where the rebels are battling Sunni tribesmen, officials said.

They said Saudi-led warplanes also bombed the northern cities of Saada, Jouf and Amran along with weapon depots and armored vehicles in a rebel-controlled police camp in the central Bayda province.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The airstrikes and ground fighting have killed more than 1,000 people and displaced more than a million amid severe shortages of water, food, fuel and medical supplies.

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said airstrikes between April 6 and May 11 in the northern city of Saada, a Houthi stronghold, killed 59 people, including 35 children. It said the strikes targeted houses, five markets, a school and a gas station. The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said it found no evidence any of the sites were being used for military purposes.

"These attacks appear to be serious laws-of-war violations that need to be properly investigated," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the rights group's Middle East and North Africa director.

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