A Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has expressed “deep regret” over a decision by the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) medical aid group to evacuate its staff from the north of the country.
MSF said on Thursday that it was pulling its staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen after a coalition air strike hit a health facility operated by the group, killing 19 people.
“The coalition to support the legitimacy in Yemen expressed its deep regret over MSF decision to evacuate its staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen,” the coalition said in a statement carried by Saudi state news agency SPA, adding that it was seeking an urgent meeting with the aid group.
“[It] asserts its appreciation for the work the group is undertaking with the Yemeni people in these difficult circumstances,” the statement continued.
— MSF International (@MSF) August 18, 2016
The coalition said it was committed to respecting international humanitarian law in all its operations in Yemen and had set up an independent team to investigate incidents in which civilians were killed.
MSF is one of handful of international aid groups operating on the ground in Yemen where a 16-month civil war between a Gulf Arab coalition and the Houthis – rebels allied with Iran – has killed more than 6,500 people and brought one of world’s poorest countries close to famine.
Dozens of Saudi-led air strikes and shells launched by the Houthis have hit civilians in Yemen since the Arab coalition began military operations in March 2015 in an attempt to return toppled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power.
MSF said many of these attacks had struck health facilities, putting patients and staff in danger and displayed a failure by warring parties to control the use of force.
MSF: ‘No other option’
A coalition air raid on Monday hit a hospital operated by MSF in the northern Hajja province killing 19 people, including one of its staff members, and injuring 24, the group said.
On Saturday, an air attack hit what MSF described as a school in neighbouring Saada province, killing 10 children.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack and called for a investigation, which the coalition said it would carry out.
MSF said it had met officials from the Saudi-led coalition and shared GPS coordinates of the hospital it operates in with parties involved in the conflict but that bombings had continued.
“The decision to evacuate the staff from a project is never taken lightly but in the absence of credible assurances that parties will respect the protected status of medical facilities there may be no other option,” said the statement.