Yemen: UN urges investigation into Saudi-led coalition air raids

Antonio Guterres condemns air raids by Saudi-led coalition on Saada city and urges all parties to protect civilians from danger.

This image grab from a handout video made available by the Ansarullah Media centre shows destruction at a prison in Saada
This image grab from a handout video made available by the Ansarullah Media centre shows destruction at the prison in Saada [Photo by Ansarullah media center/ AFP]

The UN chief has condemned air raids by the Saudi-led coalition on Saada city and called for an investigation into the attacks that killed more than 70 people in Yemen.

“The Secretary-General calls for prompt, effective and transparent investigations into these incidents to ensure accountability,” Antonio Guterres’ spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said.

A detention centre holding migrants in Saada city was bombed on Friday. Basheer Omar, a Red Cross spokesperson in Yemen, said rescuers continued to search for survivors. He said more than 100 people had been killed and wounded, according to the Red Cross count.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels and an aid group on Saturday claimed that the death toll had climbed to at least 82.

Al Jazeera, however, could not independently verify the casualty figures.

Saudi-led coalition has carried out deadly air raids in Saada and the port city of Hodeida
Saudi-led coalition has carried out deadly air raids in Saada and the port city of Hodeida. (Al Jazeera)

Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) put the number of wounded alone at “about 200”. Ahmed Mahat, MSF’s head of mission in Yemen, said they had reports of “many bodies still at the scene of the air strike, many missing people”.

Another Saudi air raid on Friday in the port city of Hodeidah – later confirmed by satellite photos analysed by the AP news agency – hit a telecommunication centre that is key to Yemen’s connection to the internet. Early on Saturday, the internet remained down.

Yemen’s Houthi Health Minister Taha al-Motawakel has appealed to the international community for medical aid. He accused the Saudi coalition of deliberately targeting civilians.

“We consider this a war crime against humanity. The world should take responsibility at this critical moment in human history,” he said.

The Houthi Al Masirah TV satellite news channel said the strike on the telecommunications building killed and wounded an unspecified number of people. It released chaotic footage of people digging through rubble for a body as aid workers assisted bloodied survivors.

People inspect the wreckage of buildings damaged by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Sanaa
People inspect the wreckage of buildings that were damaged by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Sanaa on Tuesday [Hani Mohammed/AP Photo]

Save the Children said at least three children were killed in the Hodeidah attack.

Air raids also hit near the capital, Sanaa, held by the Houthis since late 2014. On Tuesday, at least 14 people were killed in Saudi air raids in Sanaa.

Intense campaign

The intense campaign comes after the Iran-backed Houthis claimed a drone and missile attack that struck inside the United Arab Emirates capital earlier this week – a major escalation in the conflict in Yemen where the Saudi-led coalition, with the UAE as a member, has been carrying out air raids since 2015.

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Al Attab, reporting from Sanaa, said that the attacks have drawn nationwide condemnation by the Houthis and different human rights groups in Yemen.

“The Houthi-run ministry of human rights has called for an investigation into the attacks,” he said.

Eight aid agencies operating in Yemen said in a joint statement that they were “horrified” the killing in Saada, which included women and children.

“Migrants seeking better lives for themselves and their families, Yemeni civilians injured by the dozens, is a picture we never hoped to wake up to in Yemen,” said Gillian Moyes, Save the Children’s director in Yemen.

Jamal Benomar, a former UN special envoy for Yemen, said the air raids are the latest in a series of war crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition.

“There has been no accountability whatsoever since the start of this war. It’s a failure not only from the United States but the permanent members of the Security Council.

“The reality is that all the five members instead of cooperating to try to find a way on how to compel the Saudis to end the war in Yemen and compel the Yemeni sides to enter in good faith in a political process, to end this strife, they have in fact been competing for lucrative contracts with Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” he said.

“So the highest body in the world, in the United Nations, the Security Council, the members have not played, I’m afraid, a positive role in the last few years.”

Saudi-led coalition denies it carried out the attack in Saada

The Saudi-led coalition denied it carried out the raid in Saada. The coalition spokesman Brigadier General Turki al-Malki alleged the Houthis had not reported the site as needing protection from air raids to the UN or the International Committee of the Red Cross.

He claimed the Houthis’ failure to do so represented the militia’s “usual deceptive approach” in the conflict. Al-Malki’s claim could not be immediately checked with the international agencies.

The Saudi-led coalition acknowledged carrying out “accurate air strikes to destroy the capabilities of the militia” around Hodeidah’s port. It did not immediately confirm striking a telecommunications target, but instead called Hodeidah a hub for piracy and Iranian arms smuggling to back the Houthis.

Iran has denied arming the Houthis, though UN experts, independent analysts and Western nations point to evidence showing Tehran’s link to the weapons.

On Friday, Houthi supporters rallied, calling the air raids “an American escalation”. Houthi media distributed video of thousands in the streets. The Houthis commonly equate the Saudi-led coalition with the United States, condemning America.

The Saudi-led coalition entered Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to try and restore the country’s internationally recognised government, toppled by the Houthis the year before.

The conflict has turned into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with international criticism of Saudi air raids that have killed hundreds of civilians and targeted the country’s infrastructure.

The Houthis have also been accused of war crimes and using child soldiers.

Some 130,000 people, including more than 13,000 civilians, have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

On Friday, the UN Security Council condemned the “heinous terrorist attacks” in the UAE as well as in other sites in Saudi Arabia claimed by the Houthis, and underlined the need to hold perpetrators “accountable and bring them to justice”.

“Human rights groups have criticised the Security Council’s approach as one-sided. The council did issue a statement but again only on the drone attack on Abu Dhabi,” Al Jazeera’s James Bays reporting from New York, said.

“The secretary-general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has addressed the carnage in Saada and other attacks in Houthi-controlled areas. He has called for prompt, effective and transparent investigations.”

The UAE insisted that it and other coalition members remained committed to “proportionate” responses to Houthi attacks.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a separate statement that the heightening of the conflict was of “great concern” to the United States and called on all sides to de-escalate.

He earlier spoke to Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud to reaffirm a US commitment to help Gulf allies improve their defence, and stressed “the importance of mitigating civilian harm”, the Department of State said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies