Saudi-led coalition airstrikes killed dozens of civilians, including children, in northern Yemen on Thursday, according to Yemeni medical officials and international observers.
One of the strikes reportedly struck a bus carrying young children to a summer camp as it drove through a market in Saada, a northern province controlled by Houthi rebels.
It was not immediately clear how many people were killed or how many strikes were launched, but local health officials told Reuters that the death toll had climbed to 43, with 61 wounded.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), one of the few humanitarian groups on the ground in the region, backed up that claim, saying that a nearby Red Cross-supported hospital had received “dozens” of casualties from the strike.
“Scores killed, even more injured, most under the age of ten,” Johannes Bruwer, head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, wrote on Twitter. “[ICRC] sending additional supplies to hospitals to cope with the influx.”
A coalition of Gulf Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the U.S. has been fighting in Yemen for more than three years against Houthi forces, which overthrew the Yemeni government in 2014. The intervention is aimed at restoring the internationally recognized regime of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and driving out the Houthis, whom Riyadh and Washington view as Iranian proxies.
Thousands of civilians have been killed in the fighting since the coalition began its air campaign in 2015. Due to the close proximity of Houthi fighters and the civilian population, errant coalition strikes frequently hit schools, markets and hospitals.
The Saudi-led coalition defended Thursday’s strike in Saada, calling it a “legitimate military operation” in response to a Houthi missile attack that killed a Yemeni civilian in the southern Saudi city of Jizan late Wednesday.
“The targeting that happened today in Saada province was legal military action to target elements that planned and executed the targeting of civilians in the city of Jizan last night, killing and wounding civilians,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted coalition spokesperson Turki al-Maliki as saying.
Now in its fourth year, the war in Yemen has caused one of the world’s most acute humanitarian catastrophes, according to the United Nations. More than 16,000 people have been killed and millions more have been bushed to the brink of starvation amid a coalition blockade of Houthi-controlled seaports.
The Obama administration began assisting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen in 2015, providing refueling for its fighter planes, as well as general intelligence and surveillance support. The assistance was intended to keep the U.S. military out of offensive operations against the Houthis, and was limited to helping the Saudis secure their southern border.
Under the Trump administration, which has sought closer ties to Saudi Arabia, the scope of U.S. support to the Saudi-led coalition has widened, to include the deployment of special operations troops along the Saudi-Yemen border. Washington views Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen as a proxy conflict in a wider campaign to contain Iranian aggression in the region. (RELATED: U.S. Special Forces Helping Saudi Arabia Fight Yemen Rebels)
Critics say U.S. involvement in the conflict has enabled the Saudi coalition to continue indiscriminate bombing and made the crisis worse. But the Trump administration has defended its support, arguing that coalition strikes would kill more civilians without U.S. military targeting assistance.
Military officials also argue that withdrawing support would jeopardize cooperation with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on counter-terrorism operations.
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