Speaking to the AFP news agency, a spokesman for the fighters, who was identified only as Ali, referred to what he said was a "massacre committed by the Saudis".

Unconfirmed attack

The reported air raids come a week after Houthi fighters said a similar attack on a market in Razeh left at least 70 people dead.

That attack could also not be confirmed.

IN DEPTH

 Video: Hunger stalks Yemen's displaced
 Video: Saudis tighten Yemen border control
 Video:
Iran warns against Yemen meddling
 Video: Saudi worried over Houthi fighters
 Profile: Yemen's Houthi fighters
 Inside Story: Yemen's future
Saada has been the scene of fierce fighting in recent months between Yemeni government forces and Houthi fighters.

The fighters, who launched a rebellion against the Yemeni government in 2004, belong to the minority Zaidi sect of Shia Islam and complain of social, economic and religious marginalisation.

The Yemeni government says the rebels are receiving support from Iran, although Tehran has denied any involvement.

In a separate development on Sunday, Yemeni defence officials said that Abdul Malak al-Houthi, the top Houthi leader, had been seriously wounded in fighting with government forces.

However a spokesman for the fighters dismissed the claim as "baseless".

"The authorities are trying to cover up for their failure in the field by spreading such rumours," the spokesman told AFP by phone.

Saudi Arabia fears that the growing instability in neighbouring Yemen could turn into a major security threat for the kingdom by allowing al-Qaeda to gain a stronger foothold in the country.

In early November Saudi forces began attacking Houthi fighters after they staged a cross-border incursion that killed two Saudi border guards.

Aid groups, which have been given limited access to the northern provinces, say at least 150,000 people have fled their homes since 2004.