The incident occurred before Yemen's warring factions are to meet on Sunday for UN-sponsored talks in Geneva in their first bid to break a deadlock after more than two months of Saudi-led air strikes.

The coalition led by Riyadh denied claims that it had carried out an air strike in Sanaa, suggesting instead that a rebel munitions cache may have exploded.

Residents of the quarter said a pre-dawn strike was the first direct hit there since the launch of the campaign against Iranian-backed Huthi rebels in late March.

A missile hit the Qassimi neighbourhood without exploding, but killed five residents, including a woman and a child, and destroyed three three-storey houses, medics and witnesses said.

"We saw the flashing light of the missile launched from a plane. We expected it to explode, but it did not... We felt the impact of the missile when it hit the ground," said resident Ahmed al-Ameri.

Sanaa's old city has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years and was a major centre for the propagation of Islam, boasting more than 100 mosques, 14 public baths and more than 6,000 houses built before the 11th century.

It was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1986.

UNESCO director general Irina Bokova said she was "profoundly distressed by the loss of human lives as well as by the damage inflicted on one of the world's oldest jewels of Islamic urban landscape."

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