By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia on Thursday said it was "alarmed and outraged" by a call from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for the kingdom to be suspended from the U.N. Human Rights Council until a Saudi-led military coalition stops killing civilians in Yemen.
The two human rights advocacy groups said the Saudis have had "an appalling record of violations in Yemen while a Human Rights Council member." Saudi Arabia is in its final year of a three-year term on the 47-member Human Rights Council.
A Saudi-led coalition began an air campaign in Yemen in March 2015 to defeat Iran-allied Houthi rebels.
"We were alarmed and outraged at Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch's statement accusing Saudi Arabia of unlawful attacks in Yemen," the Saudi U.N. mission said in a statement.
"Saudi Arabia and the coalition have complied with international law at every stage in the campaign to restore Yemen's legitimate government," it said, adding that the coalition's main goal was "the protection of civilians."
"We deeply regret the loss of any civilian life," the statement said.
A two-third majority vote by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly can suspend a country from the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council for persistently committing gross and systematic violations of human rights during its membership.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said they had documented 69 unlawful air strikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, in Yemen by the coalition in which at least 913 civilians were killed.
The United Nations briefly blacklisted the Saudi coalition this month for killing children in Yemen. However, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon succumbed to what he described as unacceptable pressure and removed the coalition from the blacklist pending a joint review.
"We have created an independent team of experts tasked with assessing such cases and developing enhanced targeting mechanisms to ensure the safety and protection of civilians," the Saudi statement said.
It added: "Attempts at delegitimizing Saudi Arabia's efforts to restore stability and find a sustainable political solution by these organizations run counter to their very mission and risks peace and security in Yemen and the world."
U.N. sanctions monitors said in January that the coalition had targeted civilians in Yemen and that some of the attacks could be crimes against humanity.
Several diplomats said the rights groups' appeal was unlikely to bring a Saudi suspension. In 2011, the U.N. General Assembly suspended Libya from the rights council because of violence against protesters by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)