Airstrikes in Yemen have killed more than 70 people, including dozens of detained migrants and three children playing in a field, according to rights groups. If confirmed, the raids would mark some of the deadliest ever for civilians in the seven-year war.
Save the Children said more than 100 others were injured in the sweep of air raids that also took out a telecommunications centre in the port town of Hodeidah, cutting internet access to the entire country.
In the early hours of Friday, one airstrike struck a temporary holding block for migrants in the northern city of Saada, reportedly killing at least 70 people in the conflict between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and Gulf-backed Yemeni forces.
Three children were also reportedly killed in a separate strike while playing on a football field in Hodeidah located 350km (217 miles) south of Saada. The field was located next to a telecommunications centre that was also damaged in the barrage.
There were reports that the death toll across the country would rise as aid workers and paramedics in both regions continued to clear the rubble. Medecins Sans Frontieres told The Independent one hospital alone in Saada city had counted 70 dead, indicating the true death toll was higher.
Ahmed Mahat, MSF’s head of mission in Yemen, said Al-Gumhourriyeh Hospital in Saada was “so overwhelmed that they cannot take any more patients”.
“We have donated medical supplies to the hospital but we know it is not enough to deal with all the casualties. We are looking to urgently send more supplies and organise referrals”, he added.
The strikes, thought to have been launched by a Gulf military coalition, come just days after the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control this part of Yemen, claimed a drone attack on Emirati oil facilities and Abu Dhabi International Airport. The United Nations security council on Friday described them as “heinous terrorist attacks”.
Abu Dhabi welcomed the statement. “The council has made it clear in its statement today, that more international action is needed to address the Houthi threat and hold them responsible,” the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. “It is essential that the security council and the international community hold this terrorist Houthi militia to account for these crimes and to prevent future atrocities.”
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies including the United Arab Emirates launched a bombing campaign in Yemen in 2015 in support of the Yemeni government, which was ousted by Houthi rebels the year before.
Brig Gen Turki Almalki, the coalition’s spokesperson, said they would be investigating but declined to comment on the details of the reports.
“We take this report very seriously and it will be fully investigated as all reports of this nature are,” he said.
“Whilst this is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” he added.
Save The Children called on the international community to also investigate the killings saying children in Yemen were dying simply because they were trying to play.
“It is horrifying that scores of people – migrants who have nothing to do with anything of this – have been killed as collateral damage in a war that has lasted seven years and has caused suffering for millions of people,” said Amjad Yamin, a spokesperson for the group.
“The world needs to investigate this, to understand how this has happened and to hold those who are responsible to account,” he added.
Yemen has been ripped apart by the war, which was triggered by the Houthi takeover of the country and ouster of the recognised president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Fearing the encroachment of Iran in the region, in 2015 Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies including the United Arab Emirates, launched a bombing campaign to reinstate their ally Mr Hadi.
Seven years on there is little hope of an end to the conflict that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in terms of numbers and has pushed millions to the brink of famine.
Save the Children said recent escalations in conflict across Yemen resulted in a 60 per cent increase in civilian casualties in the last three months of 2021, with 2022 already poised to have wider consequences for civilians.
They said Yemen’s hospitals, schools, water infrastructure and roads are in disarray after nearly seven years of conflict, further disrupting the lives of children and their families.