SANAA, Yemen (AP) — An international medical relief agency said Thursday that a hospital it runs in western Yemen was damaged in a recent attack. Yemeni military officials blamed the Houthi rebels for the drone and missile attack that targeted buildings near the hospital, causing huge explosions that killed at least eight people.
In a statement, Doctors Without Borders said they closed the hospital because of the attack and that there were no reports of deaths or injuries among its dozens of patients and staff present at the time. The patients, including two newborn babies, were transferred to other health facilities in the Red Sea city of Mocha.
"It was only luck that no patients or staff were harmed in this attack; it could have been carnage," said Caroline Seguin, manager of the organization's Yemen program.
Wadah Dobish, a spokesman for Yemen's internationally recognized government, said the Houthi attack struck warehouses used by a government-allied force late Wednesday, causing a huge fire.
Doctors Without Borders, also known as MSF, says its hospital opened in August last year, offering free services to thousands of war-wounded people.
"The patients fled after a huge explosion from the missile attacks on a weapons warehouse shook the area," Abdel-Rahman Ahmed, a general doctor at the hospital, told The Associated Press.
The U.N. humanitarian chief in Yemen, Lise Grande, condemned the airstrike on the key MSF hospital. "Hundreds of thousands of people along the western coast who need emergency assistance ... won't get the help they need because of these strikes," she said in a statement. "This is shocking and completely unacceptable."
After five years of conflict, Yemen remains a divided country. The Iran-backed Houthis have controlled the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north since 2014. A Saudi-led, U.S.-backed military coalition has waged war against the rebels and backs the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The Saudi-led coalition began its air campaign in 2015. Airstrikes and ground combat have killed 100,000 people, including fighters and civilians, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, which tracks violence reports in Yemen. The war has also caused near-famine conditions in some areas.
Dobish, the government spokesman, said Wednesday's attack targeted government-aligned forces known as the Giants Brigade. He said at least three Houthi drones also took part in the attack, which caused huge explosions and fires that spread to residential areas.
Mocha, historically famous for coffee exports, is in the south of Hodeida province. The port in the provincial capital, also named Hodeida, is Yemen's most important entry point for international aid.
The port has been the center of year-long, U.N.-brokered negotiations since December for a durable cease-fire to prevent the suspension of crucial aid deliveries.
The cease-fire came months after forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, which is the main partner in the Saudi-led coalition, began an assault to push the Houthis out Hodeida in June 2018.
Wednesday's escalation could jeopardize the U.N. deal, criticized by observers as vague and hard to implement.
The hospital in Mocha is basically the only functioning facility providing support to thousands of severely malnourished children, either from the area or from among those displaced who fled to Mocha over the past year to escape fighting in other areas.
The escalation comes days after Hadi and rivals from UAE-backed southern factions signed a new power-sharing deal to ends months of deadly infighting in southern Yemen between the two members of the anti-Houthi bloc.
Hadi and the leader of the southern secessionists, Aidarous al-Zubaidi, held their first meeting Thursday since signing the deal. They discussed their commitment to the "beginning of a new phase of security, stability and joint efforts" at the meeting Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, according to Yemeni officials who spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations.
Saudi troops were deployed at city entrances in Aden — the seat of Hadi's government before the southern city was seized by separatists — to tighten security ahead of the government's return, a key condition of the power-sharing deal.
The U.N. Security Council issued a statement on Wednesday hailing the power-sharing agreement as "a positive and important step towards a comprehensive and inclusive political solution for Yemen."
Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the signatories set an example for compromise to end the conflict and achieve stability in the war-torn country.
ElHennawy reported from Cairo.