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Saudi Arabia accused of killing 40 including children in air strike on Yemen refugee camp

Al-Mazraq camp, near the Saudi border, was allegedly hit by fighter jets yesterday but the government blamed rebel artillery fire for casualties

Lizzie Dearden
Tuesday 31 March 2015 11:22 BST
Saudi Arabia is leading an air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen
Saudi Arabia is leading an air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen (AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia is accused of killing up to 40 people at a refugee camp in Yemen as it continues to lead an international coalition waging war on Houthi rebels.

Yemen's state news agency, which is under the Houthis’ control, said the camp at Haradh was hit by Saudi planes in bombardment that killed women and children yesterday.

Footage showing the bodies of five children laid out on a blood-streaked floor could not be verified, nor could the death toll.

The International Organisation for Migration said 40 people were killed and 200 wounded, while Doctors Without Borders said at least 34 injured people were brought to a hospital in Haradh which it supports and a further 29 were dead on arrival.

“People in Al-Mazraq camp have been living in very harsh conditions and now they have suffered the consequences of an air strike on the camp,” said Pablo Marco, the organisation’s operational manager for Yemen.

“We call all parties to spare civilians from violence, respect the neutrality of medical facilities and staff, and allow unhindered access to medical assistance for the wounded.”

The strike is believed to have targeted Houthi fighters battling President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, although his administration blamed the rebels themselves for misdirected artillery fire.

A humanitarian worker said a truck of militants were hit at the gate to the Mazraq camp in an explosion that killed residents, guards and fighters.

Yemen’s President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled to Riyadh last week (AFP)

A spokesperson for the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said details were “very sketchy” about the attack at around 11.30am local time on Monday in the Al-Mazraq area of Hajjah province.

He told The Independent that there were “unconfirmed reports of 15 to 20 deaths and as many injured”.

“We are not able to confirm how the attack happened, but remain concerned for the safety and security of the displaced Yemeni civilians,” he added.

The area hosts two camps - Mazraq I and Mazraq III – for internally displaced people that house around 1,100 refugees.

They were originally set up in 2009 for those fleeing fighting between Houthi rebels and government forces in northern Yemen.

A member of the Houthi militia near vehicles destroyed by a Saudi air strike in Sanaa (EPA)

An estimated 500 new families are believed to have arrived in the camps over the last three days, escaping bombings in the western area of Saada and clashes in Aden, Lahj and other southern districts.

A Saudi military spokesperson said the kingdom was seeking clarification on the incident.

“It could have been that the fighter jets replied to fire, and we cannot confirm that it was a refugee camp,” Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said.

“We will ask the Yemeni official agencies to confirm that.”

Wars between the Houthis and the Yemeni state have sporadically raged for more than a decade, as well as conflict with East African migrants.

Saudi Arabia, supported by regional Sunni Muslim allies from Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and other nations, launched an air campaign to support President Hadi after he withdrew last month from the capital to Aden.

He left Yemen on Thursday to attend the Arab League summit and has not returned.

Civil defence workers and people search for survivors under the rubble of houses destroyed by an air strike near Sanaa Airport (Reuters)

Sunni tribes allied with Mr Hadi are battling northern Zaydi Shias backed by soldiers loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down after mass protests during the 2011 Arab Spring against his 33 years in office.

Yemen was already sliding into chaos with a growing southern separatist movement and a covert US drone campaign against al-Qaeda in the east, which has now stalled.

Bombardment yesterday struck the capital, Sanaa, which is controlled by the Houthis, the port city of Aden and Khor Maksar.

The escalating violence has led several countries to evacuate citizens, including China, India and Pakistan.

Additonal reporting by Reuters

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