At least five civilians have died in a Saudi-led coalition air strike in Yemen, eyewitnesses have said, as calls at the UN grow for an independent body to investigate possible war crimes being committed in Yemen’s civil war.
Fighter jets attacked a Houthi rebel-controlled checkpoint outside the capital of Sanaa on Wednesday morning, killing five civilians sitting in a taxi and two armed personnel at the site, witnesses said.
Rebel officials said that the strike hit an oil tanker waiting at the checkpoint, which exploded – as did a nearby petrol station, which caught fire and complicated rescue efforts. They put the death toll at 13, adding that the victims had all been burnt alive.
There was no immediate comment from the coalition on the strike in Masajed, about 10 km (six miles) west of the city.
The civilian deaths come on top of last week’s bombings of a hotel and civilian three-storey building which combined killed approximately 60 people.
Riyadh and its allies have extensively bombed Houthi rebels in charge of Yemen’s capital and north since March 2015 at the request of the exiled, internationally recognised president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
The campaign has been repeatedly criticised for causing an excessive loss of civilian life.
Saudi blockades on Yemen’s ports and airspace have also been blamed for causing the current famine facing the country’s 22-million-strong population as well as the worst cholera outbreak in modern history, which has infected 500,000 people.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and 56 other international non-governmental organisations urged the United Nations to establish an international body to investigate abuses they say may amount to war crimes committed by all the warring parties in Yemen.
Such a panel should “begin chipping away at the impunity that has been a central facet of Yemen's war,” HRW’S Geneva director John Fisher said in an open letter to the UN’s human rights council.
A report authored by several international aid agencies released earlier this month said Yemen suffered more air strikes in the first half of this year than in the whole of 2016, increasing the number of civilian deaths and forcing more people to flee their homes.
Western governments have also faced criticism for their role in the war: arms sold to Saudi Arabia are destined for use in the Yemeni war, rights groups say.
Officials within former US President Barack Obama’s administration were worried the sales could amount to complicity in war crimes.
News agencies contributed to this report
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