Rebel media outlets reported that the airstrike left a number of civilians dead
Coalition: Yemen strike targeted ballistic missile planners, not civilians
An airstrike Wednesday in northern Yemen was a “legal military action” against elements that planned attacks on Saudi Arabian towns, the spokesman for the Arab coalition told CNN news after reports that civilians had been killed.
Speaking by phone to the US-based news outlet, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen's government, Col Turki Al Maliki, insisted Thursday's attack carried out in Saada is a "legitimate military action" and is "in accordance with international humanitarian law and customs." He also accused the Houthis of recruiting children and using them in the battlefields to cover for their actions.
“The attack carried out today by the coalition in Saada was against those people responsible for the ballistic missile attack last night … the allegation [that civilians were targeted] is coming by the Houthis, and it’s still an allegation”, Col Al Maliki said.
The previous evening, Saudi Arabia intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Yemen's Houthi rebels, but shrapnel killed a Yemeni man and wounded 11 others in the southern Saudi city of Jazan.
The missile was fired from Amran province in northern Yemen on Wednesday night, the coalition said in a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency.
"Shrapnel from the intercepted missile scattered over residential areas, martyring a Yemeni resident and wounding 11," said Col Al Malki.
The coalition said Wednesday's attack brought the tally of rebel missiles launched since 2015, the year it joined the Yemeni government's fight against the rebels, to 165.
In a statement, Col Al Maliki said those responsible for firing ballistic missiles and targeting civilians would "get what they deserve."
“The Coalition will take all necessary measures against the terrorist, criminal acts of the terrorist Iranian-Houthi militia, such as recruiting child soldiers, throwing them in battlefields and using them as tools and covers to their terrorist acts,” Col Al Maliki said.
Yemen's Houthi-run Al Masirah TV said that some 50 civilians had been killed and over 70 wounded in an airstrike that hit a bus, most of them were reported to be young children. The International Committee for the Red Cross put the toll much lower. Houthi backed television stations broadcast footage of young children receiving treatment in local hospitals.
There was no breakdown in the casualties and it was not immediately clear how many of the victims were on the bus itself and how many were pedestrians in the immediate area around it
Col al Maliki said that the coalition targeted the Houthi militia members who were inside the bus and said that they were the planners and operators of the missiles launch pads. He also warned that these elements hide among civilians. Additionally, when asked by CNN about children killed in the incident, he said “Houthis are recruiting kids, … why are the Houthi taking kids to the battlefield? Are they part of the elements responsible for the attack [last night], I think that question should be asked of the Houthi and they need to answer it.”
Col Al Maliki said the coalition was not intentionally targeting civilians, saying the forces used “a high standard measure for targeting, … civilian casualties are a loss to the coalition and we cannot accept high civilian casualties in Yemen.
“The civilian people are not our target, our strategic objective is to get back the legitimate government, which is recognized by the international community”, he added.
The Iranian backed Houthi rebels seized the capital of Sanaa in 2014 and overthrew the internationally recognised government led by President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi during a transition of power from former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in the Arab Coalition intervened in the Yemen conflict at the request of Mr Hadi's government.
Following Wednesday’s incident, the United States - which backs the coalition – said its support helped prevent civilian deaths in the war. "US military support to our partners mitigates non-combatant casualties," said Pentagon spokeswoman Rebecca Rebarich, according to the statement.
"Our support to the coalition consists of aerial refuelling and intelligence support to assist our partners in securing their borders from cross-border attacks from the Houthis. Our non-combat support focuses on improving coalition processes and procedures, especially regarding compliance with the law of armed conflict and best practices for reducing the risk of civilian casualties," the statement added.