Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

Coalition to investigate ‘regrettable’ Yemen air raid

US says it will review support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting rebel forces, after an attack on a packed funeral hall in Sanaa killed more than 140 and injured hundreds.
Forensic experts look for evidence among the remains of the community hall in Sanaa that was bombed by Saudi-led warplanes during a funeral. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters
Forensic experts look for evidence among the remains of the community hall in Sanaa that was bombed by Saudi-led warplanes during a funeral. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

RIYADH // The Saudi-led coalition fighting a rebel alliance in Yemen said on Sunday it would investigate an air raid that killed more than 140 people at a funeral.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels blamed the coalition for Saturday’s attack, one of the deadliest since it launched a military campaign against the insurgents in March 2015.

The coalition initially denied carrying out attacks in the area but said on Sunday it would launch a probe into the “regrettable and painful” strike, which the UN said wounded more than 525 people.

“The coalition will immediately investigate this case along with ... experts from the United States who participated in previous investigations,” it said.

The coalition said it would provide the investigation team with any information related to its military operations at the location or in the surrounding areas.

The statement also expressed “deepest condolences and support to the families of the victims of hostilities” and said its troops have clear instructions not to target populated areas and to avoid civilian casualties.

The Houthis, who are allied with the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, accused the coalition of a “massacre”, saying its planes hit a gathering of hundreds mourning the death of the father of rebel interior minister Jalal Al Rowaishan.

They did not say if Mr Al Rowaishan was in the building at the time, nor did they indicate if other senior figures were attending the funeral.

But Sanaa mayor Abdel Qader Hilal was among those killed. “The ceiling of the hall fell on us following one strike,” said Radhwan Al Fizai, a survivor currently in hospital. “A second missile followed and I lost consciousness.”

The United States said it had launched an “immediate review” of support to the Arab coalition, which is fighting to restore the internationally recognised government.

“We are deeply disturbed by reports of today’s air strike on a funeral hall in Yemen, which, if confirmed, would continue the troubling series of attacks striking Yemeni civilians,” said White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price.

“In light of this and other recent incidents, we have initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led coalition and are prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with US principles, values and interests.

“US security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank cheque,” Mr Price said, and called for an “immediate” ceasefire.

In August, the US military announced it had slashed its number of intelligence advisers supporting the coalition following concerns over civilian casualties.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon demanded a “prompt and impartial” probe. “Those responsible for the attack must be brought to justice,” he said.

Thousands took to the streets of Sanaa on Sunday, chanting slogans against Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Mr Saleh, the former president, called for escalating the fight against Saudi Arabia along its borders “to take revenge.” Saleh was driven from power in 2012 by vast Arab Spring protests against his rule. He returned to Yemen where sections of the military had remained loyal to him and he then joined forces with the Houthis when they launched their coup in September 2014. President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi was forced to flee to Aden, where his government is now based.

Saturday’s airstrike also prompted outrage in Mr Hadi’s own government, with foreign minister Abdulmalik Al Mekhlafi describing it as a “crime.”

The attack destroys the chance of reaching a truce and reigniting the peace process, according to April Longley Alley, a Yemen specialist at International Crisis Group.

“It will have longer term consequences for the potential to develop any sustainable peace plan,” she said.

The last set of talks came to an end in August when the Houthis announced its own governing council.

The Yemen conflict has killed more than 6,700 people — almost two-thirds of them civilians — and displaced at least three million, according to the United Nations.

* Agence France-Presse, Associated Press

Updated: October 9, 2016 04:00 AM