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Human Rights Groups Sound Alarm on Increasing Trend of Airstrikes Against Yemeni Civilians

At least 49 civilians, including children, were killed over a two-day span this month

Yemeni men stand on the debris of a house, hit in an air strike on a residential district, in the capital Sanaa
Yemeni men stand on the debris of a house, hit in an air strike on a residential district, in the capital Sanaa / Getty Images
• August 28, 2017 5:00 am

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At least 49 civilians were killed in Yemen over a two-day span last week after separate airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition struck residential neighborhoods around the capital of Yemen, according to international human rights groups.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reported Friday that an air raid on three residential buildings south of Sanaa killed 14 civilians, six of them children.

The strike killed seven members of the same family, including four children aged 10 and under, the ICRC said in a statement. Per protocol, the aid organization did not name suspected perpetrators, but several witnesses said the assault came from a Saudi-led coalition. Human Rights Watch also attributed the strikes to the Saudis.

One day earlier, the United Nations reported a Saudi-led coalition strike killed 35 civilians in a hotel near a Houthi-controlled outpost north of Sanaa.

The Saudis have fought for more than two years against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who control much of northern Yemen, including Sanaa, in a war that has killed at least 10,000 people and spurred a humanitarian crisis.

Iolanda Jaquemet, a spokeswoman for the ICRC, said the attacks are the latest in an increasing trend of airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian houses.

She said her Yemen-based colleagues, who are housed in a neighborhood close to the residential buildings where the first strikes hit, immediately went to the scene after hearing the bombs and assessed the civilian nature of the area was "absolutely crystal clear." She said her colleagues did not identify any military targets nearby.

The ICRC reiterated its calls for both warring parties to abide by the law on conflict from the Geneva Conventions that order military personnel to avoid striking civilians.

The United Nations is currently weighing whether to add Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners onto a list of nations that violate children's rights. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon decided against the public condemnation last year after Saudi Arabia and its partners threatened to withdraw UN funding.

Kristine Beckerle, the Yemen and United Arab Emirates researcher in the Middle East and North Africa Division for Human Rights Watch, said her organization is demanding the UN stand up to Saudi "blackmail" this year and name the country on its so-called list of shame. The nongovernmental group is also calling on the UN Human Rights Council to create an international investigation into the abuses in Yemen. Efforts for such a probe have so far failed.

"There's been this really pernicious narrative for the last few months that things have gotten better or that the coalition has stopped violating the laws of war or that this is something that we don't need to be concerned about anymore, like, ‘Don't worry, it used to be bad, but that sort of behavior has stopped,'" Beckerle said.

"I think what we've seen over the last couple of days and couple of months is that narrative is really not true," she added. "The coalition is continuing to carryout airstrikes that violate the laws of war, those air strikes are having huge tolls on the civilian population."

Earlier this month, Saudi-led forces targeted a civilian home in a strike that killed nine people, including six children from the same family, according to a local health official. The ICRC since May has detected at least four major airstrikes by warring factions that have killed more than 60 civilians.

The conflict has crippled Yemen's health infrastructure, leaving 12 million civilians on the brink of famine and another 360,000 infected with cholera.

Published under: Saudi Arabia, Yemen