Saudi-led coali­tion an­nounces probe of air strike in Ye­men as child death toll in­creases to 40

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - NEWS -

A Saudi-led Arab mil­i­tary coali­tion said on Fri­day it would in­ves­ti­gate an air strike that killed dozens of chil­dren in Ye­men, an ap­par­ent shift of stance on an at­tack Riyadh has por­trayed as a le­git­i­mate ac­tion against its Houthi foes.

At least 40 chil­dren were killed in Thurs­day’s strike on a bus in north­ern Ye­men, the Houthi group that con­trols Ye­men’s cap­i­tal said. That raised the toll of chil­dren killed in the raid from 29.

The strike by the Western­backed al­liance of Arab coun­tries out­raged hu­man-rights groups and was strongly con­demned by UN of­fi­cials. Hen­ri­etta Fore, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the UN Chil­dren’s Fund, Unicef, said the “hor­rific” at­tack marked “a low point in [Ye­men’s] bru­tal war.”

Peo­ple in Saada started to dig graves in prepa­ra­tion for fu­ner­als to be held on Satur­day.

“God may give us pa­tience,” said Hus­sein Hus­sein Tayeb, who lost three sons on the bus, on a trip with other pupils to visit a mosque and tombs.

“I was one of the first to ar­rive on the scene, seek­ing to res­cue the wounded; I lifted a body and I found that it was Ahmed’s face. I hugged him, he was my son.”

Ahmed was 11. His broth­ers Yusef and Ali were 14 and 9, re­spec­tively.

UN chief An­to­nio Guter­res called for an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the raid, which hit the bus as it drove through a mar­ket in Dahyan, a town in the Houthis’ home prov­ince of Saada.

The UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on Fri­day called for a “cred­i­ble and trans­par­ent” in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter re­ceiv­ing a closed-door brief­ing on the strike by a se­nior UN of­fi­cial.

A Reuters TV crew saw boys in­jured in the strike ly­ing on beds in the Dahyan hos­pi­tal, many with their heads wrapped. The face of one was cov­ered in lac­er­a­tions.

The Arab states car­ried out new air strikes on Fri­day, killing a girl and in­jur­ing sev­eral other peo­ple whose home was tar­geted in the prov­ince of Marib, east of the cap­i­tal, Sanaa, the Houthis’ al-Masirah TV said.

An­nounc­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the strike on the bus, the Saudi Press Agency quoted an al­liance of­fi­cial as say­ing: “The coali­tion is firmly com­mit­ted to in­ves­ti­gat­ing all claims re­gard­ing mis­takes or vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional law, to sanc­tion those who caused th­ese in­ci­dents and to pro­vide as­sis­tance to the vic­tims.”

The Arab states car­ried out new air strikes on Fri­day, killing a girl and in­jur­ing sev­eral other peo­ple whose home was tar­geted in the prov­ince of Marib, east of the cap­i­tal, Sanaa, the Houthis’ al-Masirah TV said.

The Saudi-led Arab al­liance, whose mem­bers re­ceive Western po­lit­i­cal sup­port and buy bil­lions of dol­lars a year in arms from the United States, Bri­tain and France, has been fight­ing for three years to drive out the Houthis, Iran-aligned fight­ers who pushed a Saudi-backed gov­ern­ment out of the cap­i­tal in 2014.

Ye­men is the poor­est coun­try in the Ara­bian Penin­sula, and the United Na­tions says the war has cre­ated the world’s most ur­gent hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter, with mil­lions of peo­ple to­tally de­pen­dent on aid and at risk of famine if sup­ply lines are cut.

The Arab states ini­tially said the air strikes on the bus were “le­git­i­mate mil­i­tary ac­tion” against mis­sile launch­ers, car­ried out in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law.

Houthi-run al-Masirah TV cited the group’s health min­is­ter, Taha Mutawakil, as say­ing the es­ti­mated num­ber of ca­su­al­ties stood at 51 killed, in­clud­ing 40 chil­dren, and at least 79 peo­ple wounded, of whom 56 were chil­dren.

The In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross (ICRC) re­ported the same toll on Fri­day, cit­ing au­thor­i­ties in Saada. It had said on its Twit­ter ac­count on Thurs­day that its med­i­cal team at the ICRC-sup­ported hos­pi­tal in Saada had re­ceived the bod­ies of 29 chil­dren, all un­der 15 years old. The hos­pi­tal also re­ceived 48 wounded peo­ple, among them 30 chil­dren.

Al-Masirah TV said on Fri­day the Houthis had fired a num­ber of bal­lis­tic mis­siles at Saudi Ara­bia, tar­get­ing Jizan and Aseer prov­inces, which lie at the bor­der. Saudi Ara­bia in­ter­cepted two mis­siles fired at Jizan, al-Ara­biya TV re­ported.

The head of the Houthis’ supreme rev­o­lu­tion­ary com­mit­tee, Mo­hammed Ali al-Houthi, hailed Fri­day’s call by Mr. Guter­res for an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the air strike.

In Paris, the French For­eign Min­istry said France con­demned the strike and backed a UN call to bring all par­ties in the war to­gether for talks in Geneva on Sept. 6.

The Houthis have, how­ever, barred with­out ex­pla­na­tion the head of the UN’s hu­man rights of­fice in Ye­men from re­turn­ing to the coun­try, a UN spokes­woman said on Fri­day.

Elobaid Elobaid, a Cana­dian cit­i­zen, had been based in Ye­men since Oc­to­ber, 2016, lead­ing 17 staff in Sanaa and13 mon­i­tors in11 of Ye­men’s prov­inces, or gov­er­norates. His visa ex­pired in June but was not re­newed.

The UN hu­man rights of­fice has fre­quently ac­cused all sides of vi­o­lat­ing in­ter­na­tional law and com­mit­ting war crimes.

NAIF RAHMA/REUTERS

Boys in­spect graves pre­pared for vic­tims of Thurs­day’s air strike in the Ye­meni prov­ince of Saada on Fri­day. The es­ti­mated num­ber of ca­su­al­ties stood at 51 killed, in­clud­ing at least 40 chil­dren.

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