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Saudi-led coalition to investigate Yemen strike that UN official says killed seven children

Deadly airstrike comes just days after Britain lifts ban on arms sales to Riyadh despite concerns about possible war crimes against civilians

Bel Trew
Tuesday 14 July 2020 18:21 BST
Smoke billows following a reported airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, on July 1, 2020
Smoke billows following a reported airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, on July 1, 2020 (AFP/Getty)

At least seven children and two women have been killed in a suspected Saudi-led coalition airstrike in northwest Yemen, just days after the United Kingdom announced it would resume controversial arms sales to Riyadh.

Rights groups have repeatedly warned that weapons exported to Saudi Arabia could be deployed against civilians and used to commit war crimes in Yemen’s years-long civil war.

On Monday, War Child added its voice to the growing anger and said allowing these arms sales was “tantamount to signing the death warrants of thousands of children in Yemen”.

Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said at least seven children and two women had been killed and a further two women and two children injured in the 12 July airstrike on the Hajjah government in northwest Yemen.

“It is incomprehensible that in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, when options for a cease-fire are on the table, civilians continue being killed in Yemen,” she said.

“We extend our sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the children and women who were killed in this attack,” she added.

Turki al-Maliki, spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition, said the alliance had referred the recent operation in Hajjah to its incident assessment team.

Saudi Arabia’s official news agency SPA quoted al-Malki as saying the commanders had discovered civilians may have been killed in the operation targeting “a gathering of Houthi leaders and combatants in the Washa district of Hajjah”.

UN experts have said that both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis have committed war crimes in Yemen and that the UK, the US and France may be complicit by arming and providing intelligence and logistics support to the Gulf alliance.

The Saudi-led coalition vehemently denies the accusations.

However, UN figures suggest the coalition has been responsible for killing and injuring at least 3,481 children in the five-year-old conflict, which has also claimed at least 100,000 adult lives.

Concerns have mounted amid a spike in airstrikes over the last few months despite a ceasefire in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Yemen Data Project recorded 271 air raids in June – the highest monthly rate since July 2018 – bringing the number of bombings in the first six months of the year to at least 1,088 air raids.

The monitoring group also said civilian casualties trebled to 26 in June from 9 in May.

Yemen has been gripped by a ruinous five-year war that erupted when the Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized control of the capital Sanaa ousting recognised president and Saudi ally Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

A boy sits among Houthi followers during a gathering in Sanaa (Reuters) (REUTERS)

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies including the United Arab Emirates launched a bombing campaign in March 2015 to try to reinstate Mr Hadi.

Five years on there is little hope of an end to the fighting, which has sparked what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

Despite the devastation, since the start of the war the UK has licensed at least £5.3bn worth of arms to Saudi forces, including fighter jets, bombs and missiles, according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT).

The UK government suspended weapons sales to Riyadh last year after the Court of Appeal ruled that the government needed to assess whether the Saudi authorities had violated international law in its intervention in Yemen.

While the UK has admitted there are hundreds of incidents where the Saudi-led coalition has violated international law, international trade security Liz Truss maintained they were “isolated”.

The ban was lifted last week after the government’s own report found that there was no “pattern” of illegal airstrikes.

Downing Street has faced fierce backlash from campaigners. CAAT called the UK arms sales to Saudi “illegal, immoral and deadly” and said it was considering legal options to challenge the government’s decision.

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