Saudi airstrikes kill dozens in Yemen prison

CAIRO — Yemen’s seven-year war escalated again on Friday when airstrikes by the Saudi-led military coalition on northern Yemen killed at least 70 people and shut down internet across the country, according to international aid groups and the rebels who control the area.

Capping a week in which rebel drones struck as far away as Abu Dhabi and Saudi bombs rained down in rebel-held north Yemen, the hostilities were further proof of the year-long conflict’s stubbornness after President Biden took office by promising to wage war – and one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters – until the end.

After months of territorial gains by the Houthis, the Iran-backed rebels who control northern Yemen, forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have managed to reclaim territory and alter the momentum of the war. These offensives rumbled international efforts to push the two sides towards peace.

Friday’s strikes, which hit targets across Houthi-controlled territory, including a prison, and damaged the country’s internet infrastructure, heightened the risk of further escalation.

In the northern town of Sa’ada, near the Saudi border, where an airstrike destroyed a remand center, the Republic Hospital had received around 70 dead and 138 injured and could not take any more, Ahmed Mahat said. , the head of mission of Doctors Without Borders. in Yemen. Two other hospitals in the city have been inundated with growing numbers of injured patients even as their medical supplies have dwindled, Doctors Without Borders said.

Yahya Shaim, a health official in Saada, said in a telephone interview that the death toll had risen to 267, including 77 dead and 190 injured, adding that there were around 50 people left under the rubble.

“There are still many bodies at the scene of the airstrike, many people missing,” Mahat said in a statement, quoting a colleague from Doctors Without Borders in Saada. “It is impossible to know how many people were killed. It appears to have been a horrific act of violence.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said more than 100 people were killed or injured overnight in Saada detention center.

Rescuers were still combing through the crumbling building looking for casualties as the day went on, the Red Cross said. Video broadcast on Al Mayadeen, a pro-Iranian news channel, showed rescuers trying to clear rubble at the site to free those trapped in the rubble.

Local Houthi-linked media blamed the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting the Houthis since 2015. Although aid groups have been more cautious about assigning blame, the Saudi-led coalition repeatedly shelled Houthi forces and territory, including civilian targets, throughout the year. during the war, killing thousands of civilians.

The coalition has intensified its attacks over the past week after the Houthis attacked a major airport in the United Arab Emirates – Saudi Arabia’s main coalition partner – with drones and missiles on Monday, killing three people and wounding six, in what they said was retaliation for the UAE’s support of pro-government militias.

Armed and trained by the United Arab Emirates, these militias had recently recaptured parts of Shabwa province from the Houthis and were encroaching on Houthi gains in the oil-rich province of Marib. Marib and Shabwa have seen much of the worst fighting in Yemen in the past year after the Houthis launched an offensive last February to seize key oil infrastructure from the Saudi-backed government.

Another coalition airstrike hit a telecommunications center in the port city of Al Hudaydah early Friday morning, severely damaging critical internet infrastructure and plunging Yemen into a blackout, a ministry official said. Hadramout Province Telecommunications who asked not to be named because he was not authorized. to talk about the incident.

Save the Children said the strike killed three children who were playing on a nearby football pitch.

The country lost internet connectivity from around 1 a.m. Friday, according to NetBlocks, an internet monitoring group, and Cloudflare, a web security company, and service had not resumed by Friday evening.

The Saudi-led coalition responded to the Houthi attacks on the United Arab Emirates by striking the Houthi-controlled capital of Sana on Monday evening and killing what the Houthi media said were at least 20 people, including the family of a Houthi military general.

On Friday, Mahat said the latest airstrikes had also hit Sana and its airport, and the aid group had received numerous reports of overnight airstrikes elsewhere in northern Yemen.

But none seems to have been as deadly as the attack on Saada prison. No further information on casualties was immediately available, but Save the Children said initial reports indicated most were African migrants, who were trying to cross into Yemen to seek work in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries.

The Houthis first came to power in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising against Yemen’s authoritarian dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose successor, his deputy, has struggled to fight corruption, unemployment and a separatist movement in Yemen.

After they invaded the capital in 2014 and 2015, forcing the Saudi-backed government to flee, the Saudi-led coalition began targeting them, fearing their Iranian sponsors were gaining a foothold in the backyard of Saudi Arabia.

Now split between Houthi control in the north and Saudi-backed government control in the south, Yemen has become the site of what aid groups say is one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. , with millions living in near-starvation conditions, an economy in shambles and basic services, including many hospitals, in tatters.

Less than a month after taking office, Mr Biden had promised to push to end the war in Yemen, in part by cutting off arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Yet as the Houthis gained ground last year, the Biden administration announced in November that it would sell $650 million worth of air-to-air missiles, which it classified as defensive armament, to the kingdom.

It was unclear whether the weapons used in the airstrikes had been supplied by the United States, which in recent years has been by far the biggest arms seller to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, according to the report. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which monitors arms transfers. .

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with the Saudi Foreign Minister on Friday to stress “the United States’ commitment to helping Gulf partners improve their defense capabilities against threats from Yemen,” the State Department said in a statement, adding that it had “stressed the importance of mitigating harm to civilians. Mr. Blinken condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Monday Asked about Saudi Arabia’s attacks on Yemen on Friday, the State Department declined to comment.

The bombings carried out by Saudi Arabia on Friday came on the same day that the United Nations Security Council, convened at the request of the United Arab Emirates, unanimously condemned what the council called the “attacks heinous terrorists in Abu Dhabi” earlier in the week, as well as at sites in Saudi Arabia.

But Mona Juul, Norway’s ambassador and council president for January, also told reporters she was appalled by the much deadlier Saudi bombings in Yemen, including Friday’s strike on the prison.

“We are very worried,” she told reporters outside the council chambers. “It’s not acceptable.”

Asked about the severity of the strike, Emirati Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh said the coalition is “committed to respecting international law and a proportionate response in all its military operations”.

The report was provided by Said Al-Batati of Al-Mukalla, in Yemen, Rick Gladstone of New York and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon.

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